2. How did CTOM begin?
My former colleague and friend Natalie Fornasier is the inspiration and driving force behind CTOM. Nat was diagnosed with melanoma for the second time last year – at 24 – after it was discovered that tumours had appeared in her lungs. After she shared this with me I was compelled to create a platform through which we could share her incredible story, as well as facts and statistics, primarily with young Australian women. (A traditionally stubborn group when it comes to sun safety compliance.) Natalie has been through hell, but she’s incredibly resilient, positive and brave. She’s determined to put aside her own personal comfort to show people the realities of living with melanoma. We want to be the voice that challenges sun tanning culture and harmful misinformation.
3. Please tell our community about the current melanoma statistics in Australia.
There is so much to know. For starters, melanoma kills more young people in Australia than any other single cancer. It’s also the third most common cancer in Australian women. Since launching CTOM I have learnt a lot. The mythology that surrounds melanoma, and sun safety in general, is staggering. For instance, did you know that you don’t necessarily need to have a mole to develop melanoma? Melanoma is about more than skin. Sun safety and skin checks are non-negotiable, but Nat and I believe there needs to be a greater focus on being aware of your own individual state of health, too.
4. We feel that people have the 'it will never happen to me attitude' and is so great that CTOM is highlighting that it can. How often should people have their skin checked for melanoma and other skin cancers and what is the process? We are sure it is not as scary as people think.
Thank you! For most people a yearly check is adequate, but your doctor can advise you on what’s best for you personally, based on your individual case. The process of a skin check can vary depending on who you see (GP, skin cancer clinic or dermatologist), but there’s nothing to be afraid of. A visual check can be as simple as a thorough once over, or your doctor may use a hand-held microscope. You can also elect to have your moles “mapped” in some places (ask if you’re unsure whether your provider offers this). Mole mapping involves taking images of your skin to refer to in future. The idea is that this reference system makes it more likely smaller changes will be picked up sooner. (And when it comes to skin cancer, early detection is absolutely key.) I personally opt for both a visual check and mole mapping but the choice is personal. Whatever you choose I would recommend you also keep an eye on your spots and dots yourself – doctors are only human and sometimes mistakes are made. And rule number one: if you’re ever unsure or worried, get a second opinion or insist upon a biopsy.
5. Spill. What are your favourite SPF products?
My current top three are as follows; Dermalogica Age Smart Dynamic Skin Recover SPF50 – I’ve been recommending this for so long I should be on their payroll. It’s a fantastic all-in-one moisturiser with broad spectrum protection and it never does me wrong. Ultraceuticals Ultra UV Protective Daily Moisturiser SPF50+ - this comes in both mattifying and moisturising variants and both are ace. Again, it’s a lovely moisturiser that just happens to have maximum sun protection. The tube is huge so I’ve been known to use it on shoulders and décolletage, too. Ultra Violette Queen Screen SPF50+ Lightweight Sun Serum – the latest addition to my SPF line-up, it’s as good as you’ve heard. My friend Ava co-founded the company, and believe me when I say girl knows how to make a good product. It’s light and dewy and a real treat to wear. If you think you hate sunscreen, you just haven’t tried this.
6. Why do you think it is hard to get the sunless tanning and SPF message across to people and what do you believe to be the contributing factors to the "having a suntan makes me look healthy" culture?
Tanning culture in Australia is complex – too complex to fully unpack here! That said, there is certainly a belief that bronzed skin makes you look a) more attractive, and b) slimmer. And a lot of people still believe the best way to achieve this is via the sun or a tanning bed. (Don’t get me started on those.)
There are many issues at play here. First off, some believe a sun tan is healthy as long as you don’t burn. Not true. People might accept that sun baking is dangerous but subconsciously think getting a slight “base tan” will save them from damage. Also untrue. Beliefs like these are pervasive and can be so ingrained they go unquestioned – they’re almost assumed knowledge. Melanoma and skin cancer misinformation is rife. Also, melanoma is often thought of as an “old person’s disease”, which it’s not.
Tanning’s association with health probably has a lot to do with Australia’s famously active lifestyle. Working out outdoors and swimming put us under the sun, and a tan generally follows for most – that’s certainly part of the connection. In the ‘20s, sun tans became fashionable in the west in part because they were associated with enjoying leisure time (and the wealth that afforded it) and I think that still stands somewhat true today. We only need to look on social media to see we’ve arrived at a place where our privilege can be measured by the depth of the tan lines we share on Instagram.
7. What is next for CTOM and what can we do you need as a community to help raise awareness - where can people find you?
For now you can find us at @CallTimeOnMelanoma but very soon we’ll be launching a .com.au. We’ve got a lot of exciting projects coming up in the near future, including brand and talent collaborations.
As a community I think there is tremendous power in sharing facts and directly challenging melanoma mythology. Ask more from the people you follow on social media. If a brand or influencer glamourises sun tanning, challenge them to do better. While I don’t stand behind bullying or shaming, I do believe urging others to question the message they’re sending to impressionable young women is important.
Additionally, encouraging your friends and family to see sun safety as vital self-care is key to changing attitudes. We’ve already had a community member inform us she was diagnosed with a melanoma (which was subsequently removed) during a skin check she booked after having read Natalie’s story. We should never underestimate the change we can make through sharing stories and information.