The growth of skincare has changed beauty markets across the globe. With trends like slugging (the act of slathering your face with petroleum jelly overnight), skin fasting and routines going up to seven steps, supple, ageless skin has never been in such high demand.
In this growing “skin first” approach to wellness and living, it’s easy to forget the that in spite of our generous applications of skin serums and tinctures, we cannot control how our skin chooses to behave, and when it chooses to attack itself. This uncontrolled growth is known as skin cancer.
Skin cancers are the most common groups of cancers diagnosed worldwide. Melanoma, a kind of skin cancer, has been recorded as the most common group of cancers. Non-melanoma skin cancer is often excluded from the reporting of cancer statistics and global total cancer cases because it is very common, often under-diagnosed, commonly treated within primary care therefore, likely to be under-reported in national cancer registry data.
According to the World Health Organization, there are currently between 2 and 3 million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132,000 melanoma skin cancers that occur globally each year. Melanoma is the 13th most common cancer in men and the 15th most common cancer in women.
Every year, several research centers and specialized agencies spend billions of dollars on cancer research. This research is important to build a fountain of knowledge and create awareness on the existence and extent of the disease.
For the month of May, skin cancer awareness month, Marie Claire Nigeria speaks to Franca “Kaka” Ebuzome, the Head aesthetician and co-founder of Dermaspace Aesthetics and Wellness Center, Lagos, on skin care, skin cancer, risks and what to do to stay healthy.
Ebuzome has seen multiple clients in her decade of service as an aesthetician and has built relationships with some of these clients who have become her regulars. During one routine session on a particular recurring client, she noticed a bump on their skin that wasn’t acne at all. After examining it closely, she drew a few notes and referred them to see a dermatologist. “As an aesthetician I don’t deal with skin cancer cases. When I notice abnormal growth, I recommend clients to see a dermatologist,” she said.
Upon consultation at the dermatologist and a minor procedure where the bump was scraped off to check for cancer, it was discovered that it wasn’t cancer. Only a benign growth on the client. Not everyone has the same story.
“Skin cancer is a disease that can begin like a harmless growth on your skin. Sometimes it can come as acne. It’s just there and not going away,” she says. “If you notice any abnormal growth, especially one you haven’t seen before that is acne-like or mole-like, it’s an alarming sign. Don’t take it for granted. Go for a check up because if it’s an early stage of skin cancer, it can be treated.”
What determines or increases the risk of skin cancer?
There are several factors that can increase a person’s risk of skin cancers. The three major categories are: UV rays, family history and personal history.
Ultraviolet radiation (UV rays) is the most important risk factor for skin cancer. These rays come from the sun (which is a very major cause), tanning beds and the lamp used to dry out acrylic and gel polish at the nail salon. What they do is that they damage the DNA in your skin cells leading to skin cancer.
With family history, if someone in your family has skin cancer you may be more likely to have it as well. With personal history, if you’ve had it before, you’re at higher risk of developing again. As a child, if you’ve treated it before and after five years there’s no relapse, chances are it won’t ever develop but this isn’t 100 percent accurate.
Other factors include age as it’s more common in older people even though it can happen at any age. Certain medical conditions such as a weak immune system can increase your risk of skin cancer and finally, exposure to certain chemicals such as arsenic is a risk factor.
What part does the sun play in benefitting or damaging the skin?
The sun can benefit or damage the skin depending on the amount, duration and time of exposure. On one hand, the sun is a primary source of Vitamin D which is essential for healthy bone development and maintenance. Some exposure is important to overall health. On the other hand, is exposure to UV rays, short term exposure can cause sunburn, age spots, wrinkles, hyperpigmentation while long term exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer as mentioned and lead to melanoma, the most common and most deadly form of skin cancer.
There are a lot of conditions that have similar symptoms, at what point should one book an appointment to test for skin cancer?
When you notice an abnormal growth, it should be a reminder to see a dermatologist. Even if you don’t treat your acne with topical products, your immune system should treat them on its own. You should wait a month to three months, if it’s still there, it needs to be checked. It’s a good idea to be proactive about your health and take any unusual changes seriously especially if you know you have a family history of cancer. It’s important to note changes externally or internally. If you notice a change like a mole, or the growth that changed in size or colour – anything at all, you should always book an appointment to have it examined. It’s also important to pay attention to any symptom that may suggest cancer or a spread of it such as weight loss, fatigue or pain. If you’re experiencing any of these, see your doctor immediately.
How is screening of skin cancer done?
When you want to get a medical check for skin cancer, a visual inspection of the skin is done by a dermatologist. If it’s a mole, the doctor will examine it. They’ll also use a dermatoscope which is a special lens that allows them to examine the skin more closely. In some cases, a biopsy may be required to confirm a diagnosis of skin cancer, if suspected. During that, a small sample of skin where the growth is, is removed and examined under a microscope for cancerous cells. It is very important to note that early detection is key to examine skin cancer.
What steps do you advise one take to prevent skin cancer?
The goal is to avoid direct exposure to the sun especially from 10am – 3pm. Whether you’re swimming or in a car, you need to protect yourself because sun rays can penetrate through water and glass. In addition to this, there are quite a number of things you can do.
- Avoid tanning beds
- Wear protective clothing
- Use and reapply sunscreen of 50 SPF and up. The hotter the sun, the more you reapply and go for a higher SPF
- Wear protective gloves while your hand is under the gel polish dryer. Nail techs should always have gloves their clients can wear when drying their nails
- Use an umbrella when you’re out in the sun. Stay in the shade often
- Perform regular routine exams at home to monitor your skin
How do my diet and lifestyle affect the health of my skin?
The skin is not just the largest cell organ, it’s the largest living cell organ. Whatever you put inside your body, reflects on your skin outside. Diet and lifestyle can have a significant impact on skin health generally.
Lifestyle: If you smoke, for instance, it reflects on your skin. It can reduce blood flow and collagen production leading to wrinkling and saggy skin. It can also increase the risk of skin cancer. We can’t under emphasize sun exposure as one of the largest causes of skin cancer, it can cause sunburn, premature aging or photo aging.
Stress: Chronic stress can have a negative impact on your skin leading to acne, wrinkles.
Sleep: Getting enough sleep is important for your skin health. It allows your skin to repair and regenerate. The skin repairs itself naturally and as we grow older the ability for it to regenerate becomes slower. This means, with growth, we need a lot of sleep to help the skin do what it does.
Diet: Hydration. Drinking enough water is best for your skin. If you’re dehydrated your skin can be dry and flaky.
Nutrition: Eating a healthy balanced diet with fruits and vegetables with certain vitamins like C (antioxidant very good for the skin) and E (protects skin from damages caused by UV rays) are great for your skin just like many products.
Do I need the services of a dermatologist if I already have an aesthetician?
Definitely, yes. Dermatologists and aestheticians can work hand in hand. Whether or not you need a dermatologist when you have an aesthetician depends on your specific skin condition and need. A dermatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating skin conditions including diseases and infections. They can also provide medical grade treatment and prescription for conditions such as acne, eczema, psoriasis etc.
An aesthetician is a skincare specialist who focuses on improving the appearance of the skin through non-medical treatment such as facials, chemical peels, microdermabrasion, micro needling etc. They can also offer advice on skincare routines, how to manage acne, lesions, product recommendations and lifestyle changes to improve the overall health of the skin.
You may need both simultaneously. If you have specific medical concerns or conditions relating to your skin such as, persistent acne, unusual moles or signs of skin cancer, it is advisable to consult a dermatologist.
However, one of the benefits of having an aesthetician is that they can notice unusual growth on your skin and bring your attention to it, so you see a dermatologist right away.
How frequently should I visit the dermatologist to avoid the risk of skin cancer?
The frequency depends on the individual risk factor. Generally, it’s good to visit your dermatologist at least once a year.
Are there any natural treatments that work for the skin?
There are no natural treatments that have been proven to effectively treat skin cancer. It’s a serious medical condition that requires professional treatment. With skin care, there are natural treatments that can work such as fruit enzymes like papaya which help for skin tone and honey which helps with hydration.
What are your recommended steps and products for a simple skincare routine that helps maintain healthy skin?
A consultation session with an aesthetician can provide you specific information about what is good for your skin.
A simple skincare routine will involve: Makeup remover (I do not recommend wipes as they can clog your pores with residue), face wash that’s appropriate for your skin type (dry, sensitive or oily), toner, serum, moisturizer and sunscreen.
My advice for step one is that you should double cleanse. Start with a cleansing oil or micellar water then move to a gentle facial cleanser, one that is hydrating. For step two, you should tone to balance the pH of your skin and for the next step, depending on your skin type, you use a serum – one that has properties like vitamin C. Follow this with a moisturizer – a deep one is better. Finally, use your sunscreen. You can also use this as a night time and eliminate the sunscreen since you will be indoors.
How does technology play into managing healthy skin? What are the pros and cons?
Technology has improved the skincare industry with new and innovative ways to manage skin conditions. It has upgraded, made easy, and assisted in managing and improving skin health. We have a few advanced tech now like laser, microneedling, skin grafting, to mention a few.
For the pros, I would say:
- Advanced skincare treatments that target specific conditions such as acne, hyperpigmentation with treatments like laser therapy, microneedling, microdermabrasion and chemical peels.
- Smart skin care devices that use tech to provide customized skincare routines. They analyze skin types, conditions and even recommend what works for you.
- It has improved skin care ingredients with new discoveries and formulas which makes it more effective in treating skin like retinoids, hyaluronic, vitamin c.
With the cons:
- Technology is expensive so it makes it inaccessible to everyone
- Some of the processes like laser and chemical peels can expose one to risks such as skin damage, hyperpigmentation and scarring.
- Dependency is real. As people get so used to it, they no longer want to opt for natural methods.
What are the biggest misconceptions when it comes to skin, skin cancer and skin care?
With skin care, I would say the biggest misconception is that skin care is for women only. No, skincare is for anyone who has skin.
Another one is that as a black person, you can’t get sunburnt. Anyone can get sunburnt.
Finally, people don’t think the skin is an organ. They don’t see it as something that can harm or kill when it’s not treated right. People go for check ups on other parts of their body like the heart, lungs etc. but not the skin.
With skin cancer, one of the biggest misconceptions is that skin cancer is most common in white, not black people. Skin cancer is not dependent on race. It can happen to anyone.
Another one is that people often see those UV lamps used to dry gel polish in nail salons as harmless rays. They are very harmful and it is necessary to spread the word on this .
The skin is as important as any part of the body. Choose where to focus your care on because when one part is affected, it could take down the whole body.