If you care even a little about the health of your skin, you've already been subjected to innumerable articles on what to look for, what to be worried about and what to do about certain physical signs that may present themselves.
But that's kind of the problem, right? We're so bombarded with information that sometimes it goes in one ear and out the other. Other times we get lulled into a false sense of knowing all about a certain topic and begin to tune out vital data.
That's why we want to walk you through some fundamental — yet important — skin facts, especially now that the sunny season is on its way.
And to get you the best info out there, we picked the brain of one of Los Angeles' top dermatologists, Dr. Soheil Simzar. A board-certified doctor, Simzar specializes in cosmetic dermatology and Mohs micrographic skin cancer surgery. From moles to freckles and everything in between, Dr. Simzar shares with us the skin "basics" that every woman should know.
What is a mole? Why do we have them and when are they dangerous?
A mole, also known as a nevus, is a benign growth on the skin formed by a collection of skin cells called melanocytes. We can be born with moles and develop them throughout our lifetime. Moles can be dangerous when they start changing rapidly and abruptly, either growing in size or changing in shape or color. I usually tell my patients with multiple moles to look for ones that stand out — the ones that are the "ugly duckling" relative to their others.
What is a freckle? Why do we get them? Can we get rid of them? Why are some more prone to them than others?
Freckles are flat, pigmented spots that have increased production of melanin (pigment) by melanocytes (skin cells that produce pigment). They do not have an increased number of melanocytes, like moles and sunspots do. They are genetic and darken in the sun and can fade over time with sun avoidance.
What is a sun spot? How can you get rid of them and is there a way to prevent them? When does a sun spot become something more serious?
A sun spot is a well-defined pigmented spot on the skin. Unlike freckles, sun spots will not fade over time with decreased sun exposure. The best way to prevent them is sun avoidance or diligent use of sun protection.
There are several methods for getting rid of sun spots. Prescription and over-the-counter creams containing hydroquinone or kojic acid can help lighten or fade the spots, as can chemical peels and lasers with a specific wavelength that can help zap them away.
What are the rules of thumb for when to consult a dermatologist about a mole or other spot? How often should people get a full-body mole check?
If, by comparison to your others, a mole stands out, or if it's changing in color, shape or size, see your dermatologist. If you're not sure, see your dermatologist — it takes a second for us to look at it, and prevention is key. If caught early, skin cancer is curable more than 95 percent of the time, but if it's not detected until the advanced stages, it can be fatal and there's little we can do. I advise my patients to do the following:
— A monthly skin self-exam (Have your spouse or friend take a look at your back.)
— A full-body skin check once every one to two years, depending on your family history
— If you've had melanoma in the past, skin check once every three to six months
— If you've had a history of non-melanoma skin cancer, skin check once every three to nine months depending on what types you've had and how many
— If a mole doesn't look right, have it checked out within two weeks by a dermatologist