Years of sun exposure takes its toll on skin


One “feature” of growing older is acquiring liver spots and various other blemishes on the skin.

To find out whether they pose a risk, I recently asked a dermatologist to have a look at my arms, face and back.

It turned out that half a dozen of these freckle-like marks were pre-cancerous and the dermatologist removed them with liquid nitrogen, for which there is a $30 charge.

“You’ve had enough sun,” he advised me, suggesting that at 68, and after years of travelling and living in Asia and around the Mediterranean, I cover up this summer during a vacation to Greece and Israel.

And he didn’t mean sun block. He said cover your arms and upper body, even when swimming, and even in the shade. He warned me to be cautious since my skin is light and I have signs on my body of prolonged exposure.

I contacted the Quebec Association of Dermatologists to get some basic information on sun exposure as a medical issue and was referred to Daniel Barolet, a Town of Mount Royal dermatologist.

Does the risk of skin cancer increase with age?

Yes, due to cumulative effects of the sun on the skin.

Is it higher in countries like Australia and California where the sun culture is still popular?

Absolutely, especially Australia, with mostly fair-skinned individuals originally from England.

How can we recognize suspect discoloration on the skin, liver spots, freckles or other marks as distinguished from pre-cancerous lesions?

I recommend that suspicious beauty spots be removed because they can develop into melanoma if they fall under ABCDE: Asymmetry, Border irregularity, Colour change, Diameter of more than 6 millimetres, Evolution (rapid change within a few months).

When should someone over 50 visit a dermatologist?

When there are persistent lesions that won’t heal.

Is a referral necessary?

Most dermatologists will ask for a referral paper.

Are there costs for treatment not covered by medicare?

Yes, for liquid nitrogen, local anesthesia and some cosmetic procedures.

What is your advice for sun-starved seniors regarding exposure to the sun in the summer?

A 15-minute indirect exposure on the arm and face is enough to get sufficient conversion of cholesterol to vitamin D in the skin.

What is your advice for people who head off to areas where the sun shines brightly almost every day?

They have to protect themselves with a sun protection factor of 30 or higher, especially in the first few days of their vacation.

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