Here’s where you can find answers to commonly asked questions. If you can’t find an answer to what you’re looking for, please contact us on the form below for our Nurse Gill Rolfe.
My mum had melanoma. Am I at risk of melanoma too?
Yes, if a first degree relative has a melanoma you are at more risk yourself. Your risk is also increased if you have fair skin, blonde or red hair or had lots of sunburns. Anyone in New Zealand can develop skin cancer. The following risk factors are also associated with melanoma.
- Skin type that burns easily
- Skin damage due to sunburn
- Sunbed use
- Many moles or large moles (50+)
- Sunburn at any age increases risk of melanoma in later life
- High doses of sun exposure e.g. during a holiday and recreational activity with continuous sun exposure
- Being over 50 years old
- Immuno-suppression, or weakened immune system
- Family history of melanoma
- Past history of melanoma
I have dark skin – do I still need to be careful in the sun?
Yes, although melanoma is rarer in people with darker skin, it still occurs. Although darker skinned people have lower rates of melanoma, they often have thicker, more aggressive melanomas which have poorer outcomes. Sadly, Bob Marley died of melanoma in his toenail aged 36 years old.
Why is UV status important?
Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV radiation (UVR) and you should protect your skin and eyes from UVR an affect the skin directly or reflect off snow, water or concrete. UVR can also penetrate clouds.
How can I make sure I get enough vitamin D if I protect my skin from the sun?
For the general population, some sun exposure is recommended for vitamin D.
Vitamin D levels are increased by regular small sun exposures – greater exposures result in only small additional increases.
From September to April, a daily walk or some other outdoor physical activity in the early morning or late afternoon is recommended.
From May to August, a daily walk or another form of outdoor physical activity in the hours around noon, with face, arms and hands exposed, is recommended.
Are sunbeds safe?
No. The world Health Organisation advises that sunbeds and/or sunlamps should not be used unless under medical supervision. Sunbed use before the age of 35 is associated with a 59% increase in the risk of melanoma.
Can I use a sunbed before I go on holiday, so I don’t get burnt when I’m away?
Sunbeds are not recommended and are known to increase the risk of melanoma 75% if used regularly. Sunbeds expose you to higher levels of UV radiation than the sun. They increase your risk of melanoma and other skin cancer and can damage unprotected eyes. They are an avoidable source of UV radiation and should not be used.
They are totally banned in some countries.
How often should you be applying sun cream?
You should be applying a generous amount every two hours to maintain protection, and more frequently after sweating, swimming, towel-drying and direct contact with the sun. At the start of the day, apply thoroughly 15 to 20 minutes before you go outside so it’s fully absorbed into skin. And remember the neck, ears, feet, hands and scalp, as these bits often get forgotten. In addition, seek shade, wear a hat and sunglasses.
What is SPF?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and it indicates the length of time that your skin is protected from sunburn, depending on your skin type and usual burn time.
SPF30 filters around 97% of UV radiation and SPF 50 filters around 98%. If you start getting sunburned after five minutes in the sun without any sunscreen, then applying a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 would protect you for 30 x five minutes (or 150 minutes) before you begin to burn.
Is the SPF in your make-up enough for your face?
No – you should be using a minimum of SPF30 on your face, applied every two to three hours. Relying on getting this solely from make-up is unrealistic, particularly if make-up is not reapplied throughout the day, which is often the case. In addition, seek shade, wear a hat and sunglasses.
What does water resistant actually mean?
Water resistant sunscreens have a rating between 40 and 80, which indicates how long it remains effective whilst swimming or sweating – this means that after 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, sunscreen should be reapplied.
Do once-a-day sunscreens actually work?
Over the course of a day, sunscreen can easily be washed off or wiped away. This doesn’t mean that once-a-day sunscreens don’t work, but they should be reapplied every two to three hours and more often after being in the water and when doing physical activity.
What should you look out for on a bottle of sun cream?
Broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB rays.
SPF15 or lower won’t offer enough protection – use 30 as a minimum.
Water and Sweat Resistant – A water resistant sunscreen will adhere to the skin if you’re in and out of the pool, but bear in mind, all sunscreens need to be reapplied frequently.
Active Ingredients – Look for anything with the words: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. These ingredients are designed to absorb or reflect rays. Some sunscreens do not include any of these substances, instead they’re packed with elements to ensure the sunscreen smells nice and feels luxurious, but it’s not protecting the skin.
Broad Spectrum – This guarantees the sunscreen is shielding you from UVA rays (which cause ageing and can penetrate clouds and windows) and UVB rays (which burn the skin and can cause cancer).
Expiry Dates – They matter. It’s great to be organised and purchase your sunscreen the year before, but it does have an expiry date and won’t work efficiently after it expires.
Creams vs Sprays – Sprays are designed to be quick and easy, allowing you to spray and go without getting your hands dirty, but they don’t always offer the best protection as it’s difficult to tell how much you’ve used. A cream is usually thoroughly rubbed into the body and you can squeeze out the desired amount.
Sunscreen protects against/reduces the risk of melanoma, a potentially fatal skin cancer. Remember – a sunscreen is only part of your defence against harmful UV radiation. In addition, limit your time in the sun and wear cover-up clothing.
The product should meet the AS/NZS 2604:2012 (and going forward the AS/NZS 2604:2021) Standards
Is there a big difference between SPF30 and 50?
An SPF 50 will block 98% of sunburn rays, whereas an SPF 25 will block 96%, so it’s not as straightforward as simply doubling the protection.
Any tips for those with sensitive skin?
Avoid perfumed products and those containing parabens. For prickly heat sufferers, it might not just be the temperature exacerbating your rash – if your SPF contains mineral oils it may well be worsening your condition.
Is it worth splurging on more expensive sun creams?
An SPF that costs a few dollars will be just as effective as a product with the same SPF that’s five times the price. If you’re splurging on sunscreen you’re not paying for a higher quality SPF but the other ingredients such as texture, fragrance or brand appeal.
It’s worth noting you should be wearing a lightweight SPF when you’re flying. When you’re on a plane, you’re around 30,000 miles closer to the sun, so think of the damage that can do, especially if you’re sitting by a window.
I’ve got a new spot. Should I get it checked?
New spots and blemishes can occur on our skin at any time in our lives. New moles usually appear in children and young adulthood. Other types of spots appear later in life, such as sunspots/age spots as they are associated with the accumulation of sun over the years. It is recommended to have a regular skin check.
Melanomas can often be detected using the ABCDEFG system. If you have a new or changing spot, especially with these characteristics, get it checked without delay. Here is a list of skin check providers.
My mole is changing, is this dangerous?
Change in a mole can be a sign of melanoma. It is best to have changing or new spots checked without delay.
Melanomas can often be detected using the ABCDEFG system. If you have a new or changing spot, especially with these characteristics, get it checked straight away. Here is a list of skin check providers.
Where should I go for a skin check?
There is a list of skin check providers listed on this website. Cost varies but the check should always be performed using a hand-held magnifier or dermatoscope. You can also see your GP.
What do levels and stages mean?
The ‘level’ of melanoma is the depth that the melanoma cells have grown into the skin. This is measured by the pathologist in millimetres, termed the Breslows Thickness. Alternatively there is the Clarkes Level, which is the anatomical layer in which the cells are seen.
The ‘stage’ gives some idea as to how far the melanoma has spread. Stage 1 and 2 are confined to skin, Stage 3 to lymph nodes, and Stage 4 to internal organs. There is often confusion between the Clarkes level on the pathology report and the stage. It is important to note that they are completely separate.
How is melanoma treated?
Surgery is the most common treatment. If it’s done in the early stages, before the cancer has spread, there is a high chance that it can lead to a cure. During surgery, the doctor removes the cancer and normal cells around it. This is called an excision.
Chemotherapy, immunotherapy, or targeted therapy may also be used if it has spread to other parts of the body. Radiation might also be part of treatment, especially when a person can’t have surgery.
After treatment, what is ongoing recommended follow up skin surveillance?
After removal of a melanoma, there are guidelines about the recommended follow up skin surveillance. Ask your Doctor for these guidelines.
I’ve had my mole removed and the doctors say I need to have more skin removed. Why is this necessary?
When a melanoma is removed the doctors like to ensure there is a good margin of skin around the original spot that is free from cancer cells. It is referred to as a wide local excision. You can learn more about early melanoma here.
My doctor says my melanoma was “in-situ”, what does this mean?
In situ means the melanoma has only affected the very surface of the skin and not grown any deeper. You can learn more about early melanoma here.
I have been told I have Stage II melanoma. What does that mean?
The thickness of melanoma is measured in millimetres when it is removed. The thickness and spread in the skin defines the stage of the melanoma.
I had melanoma a few years ago. Should I be having my lymph nodes checked regularly as well as my skin?
If you had a superficial melanoma, it is not usual to check lymph nodes. Regular skin checks are advised especially if you have had melanoma and you can check with your health professional at your next skin check.