With his outstanding beard, Jimmy Niggles turns heads whenever he enters a room. The female bartender at the inner-city Sydney pub where we meet can’t take her eyes off it. Who could blame her?
As outstanding as Niggles’ facial fleece is, it’s far more than your average hipster calling card. After losing close friend Wes Bonny to skin cancer in 2010, Niggles has grown his mighty beard to raise awareness of the disease in the hope of preventing anyone else going through the pain he endured. “When Wes passed away we couldn’t believe it,” he says. “He was 26 years old; he was hitting his straps and in the prime of his life.”
As well as playing an annual game of Aussie rules to honour Wes’s memory, a group of his closest mates decided they would grow their beards every winter – an event they’ve dubbed Beard Season – to bring attention to the dangers of melanoma. “A bunch of us were at his wake and we said to each other, ‘We need to do something, this is crazy’, and that’s how Beard Season started,” Niggles says.
Over the past six years, Niggles has resisted the urge to trim his beard: “My girlfriend’s only ever known me with the beard, but it definitely took Mum a few years to accept it.” And as his beard has assumed truly momentous proportions, so too has Beard Season (beardseason.com.au). In six years, the event has amassed over 85,000 followers on social media and raised more than $4.5 million.
Consider this a reminder: skin cancer doesn’t go into hibernation over winter. The Cancer Council recommends applying sunscreen any time the UV index reads three or above – a mark that’s easily passed on even the gloomiest of days. Here’s your plan to beat the burn.
Monitor Your Moles
From little things big things grow: the first signs of melanoma can appear in a single atypical mole. So it’s crucial you know your skin back to front. Dermatologist Dr Chris Baker recommends adopting the ABCDE check. Find a mole that ticks one or more of these boxes? Make an appointment with your GP immediately.
ASYMMETRY Draw a line through the mole. Do the two halves match? If not, consider this a warning sign for melanoma.
BORDER A benign mole has smooth, even borders. A melanoma tends to be uneven with scalloped or notched edges.
COLOUR Consider different shades of brown, black, red or blue a flashing red warning sign.
DIAMETER Melanomas usually have a diameter larger than six millimetres – roughly the same size as the eraser on the end of a pencil.
EVOLVING Any change in size, shape or colour, or the development of new symptoms such as bleeding, should warrant immediate attention.
Raise Your Defences
When it comes to applying sunscreen, a cursory swipe across the nose does not cut it. According to dermatologist Dr Saxon Smith, proper application of sunscreen is crucial to reaping the protective benefits.
BE HEAVY HANDED
Smith recommends you use a minimum of a golf-ball-size dollop for your entire body. “People don’t put enough sunscreen on,” he says. “If you only put on half the amount you should, you’re only getting half the protection you think you’re getting.”
CHECK THE EXPIRY
Always toss expired tubes of sunscreen, advises Smith. And consider where you stored it over the summer months. Extreme heat can accelerate the breakdown of the active ingredients, so if your sunscreen baked on the beach beside you over summer, bin it before the use-by date.
APPLY, APPLY AGAIN
“You need to allow the sunscreen to dry and sink into the skin to get the maximum protection,” says Smith. So apply at least 20 minutes before you head outside. And if you’re swimming or sweating heavily, reapply more regularly than the recommended two hours.
Melanoma: The Cold Hard Facts
• The third most common cancer in Australian men.
• Responsible for 75 per cent of skin cancer deaths
• The most common cancer in Australians aged 15-39
• One person will die from melanoma every six hours in Australia