Tips for skin disorders

( 17 July 2015 )

From skin cancer to spider veins, check yourself for these problems. It could save your looks - or your life.



Skin cancer

Skin cancer, including malignant melanomas and basal cell carsinomas, causes around 2,100 deaths each year in the UK, with the steepest rise in  cases among the over-65s who, says Cancer Research UK, have embraced package holidays since the Sixties, but not sun protection.

Malignant melanomas are easiest to spot following the ABCDE rule: 

  • if a mole becomes Asymmetric 
  • its Borders are blurred or jagged 
  • the Colour  is uneven 
  • the Diameter grows wider than 6mm (the size of a pencil eraser) 
  • and the mole is Evolving (changing and enlarging), these changes are dangerous. 

Woman most often get malignant melanomas on their legs, which get the most sun; men, on their backs. 

Basal cell carcinomas are more varied. Signs can be:

  •  a non-healing open sore that lasts for weeks and bleeds and crusts 
  • a reddish patch or irritated area 
  • a shiny, pearly bump that is usually inky, red or white 
  • a pink growth with a raised border and crusty, sunken centre 
  • and a white yellow or waxy scar-like area with blurred borders.  

Rough pink or darker patches of skin may be signs of actinic keratosis; there’s a small risk that they can be pre-cancerous.

Related: Don't take risks with the sun

Dry skin and eczema

Extreme heat, sun and wind in summer create low-humidity atmospheres that trigger painfully dry skin. And skin can lose up to 75% of its  natural lipids post-menopause, so the surface layer’s barrier function is less able to conserve moisture. Rough, synthetic clothes can also  cause dry, itchy patches.

Dry skin is taut and flaky, but not necessarily inflamed.  It can, however, develop into eczema, which can cause itchiness, redness, oozing,  crusting, thickening and scaling, especially in thin-skin zones such as the legs. 

Related: Find out more about eczema

Rosacea

Also known as ‘the curse of the Celts’ – rosacea is a facial inflammation that commonly affects fair-skinned people but can affect others too,  including those with African and Asian skin. It tends to start between your thirties and fifties and is more common in women, but often more  severe in men. 

Triggers include sun, heat, alcohol, exercise and spicy foods.  It can look similar to sunburn, but while sunburn can be agony and may blister and swell, rosacea tends to cause flushing, dilated blood vessels, tiny red bumps and pus-filled spots on cheeks, forehead, chin and nose. Your eyes may also feel dry and gritty.

Perioral dermatitis

This rash around the mouth  is often caused by heavy skin creams, make-up, steroid ointments and sun cream. Skin appears spotty, pimply, feels  tight and may flake.

Spider and thread veins

It’s estimated that 70% of women over the age of 70 have thread or spider veins (telangiectasia) on the nose, cheeks or legs. They can be  caused by ruptured or widened veins and capillaries, and are often hereditary or linked to hormonal changes such as menopause and taking HRT.  

Over-exposure to the sun and wind, or rubbing the face too much can also bring them on. Both conditions can be unsightly and spider veins can  cause itching or burning. 

Unlike varicose veins, which are lumpy and stand out from the skin, fine thread and spider veins run close to the skin surface and are red or  sometimes purple. Thread veins tend to be wiggly lines, while spider veins radiate outwards from a central spot. Both are aggravated by  sunlight, so they may appear redder and more inflamed on exposed flesh.

Age spots

It takes ten to 20 years for age spots – also called solar or senile lentigines – to develop, hence the name. But these 1cm or smaller, black  and brown marks, which occur only on exposed areas, such as the face, chest, backs of hands and scalp, are caused by UV rays and will often become visible or darker after a sun overdose.  They aren’t dangerous, but they aren’t particularly attractive and studies have shown that people with them are perceived to be older than they are.

Related: Find out how to create an even skin tone with make-up

Get treatment for skin conditions

If you think you have any of the skin problems above, there are many sources of help. 

Your GP

This is your first port of call for most skin conditions, especially if you notice changes to a mole or patch of skin. Your doctor may  then refer you to a consultant dermatologist for NHS treatment. 

British Association of Dermatologists

The BAD supply a list of private local dermatologists. They may have greater expertise than a GP and can  treat more cosmetic problems, such as spider veins and age spots, which may not be dealt with by the NHS. See bad.org.uk for more details.

Skin Health MOT

European Dermatology, Chelsea Bridge Clinic, London. £395 (eudelo.com).  An examination with a dermascope (magnifying lamp) plus digital sun damage scan checks problem lesions and reveals hidden layers of sun damage. You’ll also receive personaised sun protection and skincare advice. 

Nuriss Mole Mapping

From £250, Nuriss Skincare & Wellness Clinic, London (nuriss.co.uk)  A computer and camera system scans, photographs and analyses every mole on the body in minutes. 

The Mole Clinic

London. Top-to-toe Mole Check screening costs £135, Telederm, £50, checks out suspect individual moles or patches. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.