Let’s Avoid Skin Cancer, Shall We?

Skin Cancer Prevention Month

May is skin cancer awareness month. But really it should be a year-round conversation because you don’t only get cancer or get exposed to UVA and UVB rays in the spring or summer. True, the sun’s rays are stronger now and daylight is longer during these months but really, skin protection needs to be done every single day of the year. 365 days. No matter the weather. No matter your skin type. Seriously.

I have been preaching about sunscreen since I was in my early 20’s and realized how damaging (and horrifically aging) the sun can be. And when I say preaching I mean preaching. Friends and family probably find me completely obnoxious about it. But I don’t care. I mean most cancers are not avoidable. Don’t you want to avoid the ONE that is basically completely and easily avoidable? Thought so!

Facts

Here are some scary facts about skin cancer from the National Cancer Institute at the National Institute of Health and the Skin Cancer Foundation:

  • It’s the most common form of cancer in the US
  • Over 68,000 people are diagnosed with melanomas of the skin
  • Over 48,00 are diagnosed with an early form of the disease
  • Over 2,000,000 people are treated for basal cell and squamous cell skin cancer every year
  • Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combined incidence of cancers of the breast, prostate, lung and colon.
  • One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in the course of a lifetime.

The most common types of skin cancer are Melanoma (the one most likely to spread to other parts of the body), Basal cell (rarely spreads to other parts of the body) and Sqamous cell (can also spread to other parts of the body).

There are some risk factors also, which increase your chances of getting any of these cancers

  • Sunlight (UV Radiation) – The sun’s UV rays damage the skin and can lead to cancer.
  • Blistering sunburns – Those who have had at least one really severe sunburn in their lifetime have a higher chance of getting skin cancer.
  • Lifetime sun exposure – How much over your lifetime you are exposed can up your chances.
  • Tanning in the sun – People who go out to tan tend to have a higher risk of skin cancer because of their exposure.
  • Tanning in a tanning booth or sunlamp – Artificial UV exposure is as bad as the sun. The risk of skin cancer is increased quite a bit by those who use these, under the age of 30 especially.
  • Personal history – If you have had a skin cancer in the past you are slightly more likely to get it or another type again.
  • Family history – If two or more close relatives (mother, father, brother, sister, child) has had melanoma or other types, you have an increased risk.
  • Fair skin – If you have pale skin and/or light eyes and/or freckles, you have an increased chance (that’s me!).
  • Medicines – Certain medicines like antibiotics, antidepressants and hormones can make your skin more sensitive to the sun.

Aside from the fact that you obviously want to avoid cancer if at all possible, you probably don’t want to look older than you are either. Believe me, I know people who tanned in the 70’s and 80’s before anyone really knew how bad the sun was, and their skin is very leathery, wrinkled and not so hot looking. The vanity of keeping my skin as young looking as possible is actually why I initially started wearing SPF constantly, especially on my face when I was young. Now I just do it because not doing feels kind of irresponsible.

Recently I was reading a Glamour magazine article about skin cancer and they described it perfectly. Basically it said that back in the day, no one knew how bad cigarettes were and no one took it seriously for decades. Then everyone started dying or getting really sick. That is sort of like what’s happening now with skin cancer.

Pale Hate

And while we are at it, can we discuss the false message the media has been shoving down our throats for decades about how tanned skin is “healthy” skin and pale is bad somehow? I bought into this for a long time. And actually truth be told, I do like that when I have a (fake bottled) tan, especially on my face, I don’t have to wear as much makeup. But in the last couple of years I have kind of revolted against this way of thinking. It bugs me. Who are you to tell me tanned skin is better than pale skin? WHY IS IT BETTER? Oh right, it’s a marketing scheme. Like the message that if you are alone on Valentine’s Day, you are a loser.

Don’t buy into it. Don’t feel like when March comes around it’s time to bust out the tanning spray lest everyone think your are a pasty ghost. I actually kind of like being pale skinned because I would prefer to not be like everyone else and also, fake tans rarely either look good or natural. Plus the chemical in most of the bottled and spray tanning solutions has a reaction with your skin and it stinks 99.9% of the time. It’s not the lotion or spray that stinks, it’s the chemical reaction with the skin that causes that yucky scent (which doesn’t wash off, it wears off). No thanks. On top of the fact that as we all know by now, I am too damn lazy to bother exfoliating, applying carefully, maintaining, then reapplying all season long. I would rather be watching Dexter. ;)

Prevention

So now let’s talk about prevention. Well it’s really rather easy! Use sunscreen (1 ounce or two tablespoons for whole body), reapply it every 1-2 hours and don’t sit in the damn sun all the time, especially between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm when the sun is the strongest. People tend to think as long as they have sunscreen on it means they can then bask in it soaking up the rays. FALSE. It’s meant to help you for the times when you are exposed, not meant to allow you to then be in it constantly. That way of thinking is like thinking “Well hell, I am being treated for cancer with chemotherapy and radiation right now, so a few cigarettes won’t hurt at this point”. Just no.

I have tried many different kinds of sunscreens, especially for the face, which gets exposed the most (well that and hands). My favorites for face are Clinique Superdefense Age Defense Moisturizer with SPF 25 (this comes in various skin types) and Simple Skincare Light Moisturizer (drugstore brand). I much prefer moisturizers with SPF rather than just SPF because it just feels better on my skin. Plus I don’t like layering TOO many products on. For hands I prefer actual hand lotions with SPF, which are surprisingly hard to find. I hate the sticky greasy feeling of plain ‘ole sunscreen on my hands. I use either Ellen Sirot Hand Perfection or Deborah Lippmann’s Rich Girl. I wish there were more hand options! For body I am less picky. I like anything that isn’t too greasy, hard to rub in or that makes my skin have that white cast. My favorites lately are from Sun Bum, Australian Gold, Ocean Potion and J.R. Watkins.

Another thing I started doing a couple years ago (me and Mr. VV who is very mole prone, has light eyes, freckly skin and basically refuses to wear sunscreen unless I personally apply it on him) is have a yearly body check with a dermatologist. I schedule them a year in advance, do them and feel better knowing I am doing everything I can to protect myself. Mr. VV hates the feel of sunscreen and I understand that. Most men don’t use much lotions and potions, so the feel of it on their skin isn’t as familiar as it is with women. But I always tell him, “It might feel gross, but chemotherapy and radiation feels MUCH worse!”

So do I really practice what I preach? I try! For one I have never been to a tanning booth, thank god. I’ve been using sunscreen on my face for nearly 20 years, every day (if I leave the house for more than 5 minutes) and year round. More recently I have been making sure my hands are always protected when I go out. If I am going to be at a park, fair, swimming pool, ocean, hiking doing yard work, etc. I always put it on all over any exposed areas. Where I am not that great is remembering to put it on my body if say I want to go outside for 30 minutes and read. I will admit, I am a SUCKER for sitting in the sun when it’s warm outside. I love the sun. But now I don’t do it that often, and try to stay in the shade.

Resources

Here are some great sources of information about skin cancer including how to detect it, risk factors, prevention and treatments.

  1. Skin Cancer Foundation
  2. CDC
  3. NIH

Stay covered and safe!

-Kelly

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39 comments

  • May 9, 2013
    Cindi

    I use to work for Lancôme years ago and the had a hand lotion with SPF 50

  • May 9, 2013

    Great post! Thank you for doing this!
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  • May 9, 2013

    This is a great post! Also – I love being pale! I was teased a bit growing up, but I prefer having fair skin lol. I get mad if i accidentally get a slight tan (which only happens when I go to Disney World). And I know for sure that fake tan is the one beauty product I will never use.
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  • May 9, 2013

    Well said! I’m another girl who’s proud of being pale! In the old days it meant you were one of the nobility. ;-)
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  • May 9, 2013

    Great post! I know several people who have had skin cancer. One of them died of it :( And we live in Sweden, not California or Australia…
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  • May 9, 2013
    Maria

    Thanks for posting this! I wish I would have done more preventative things when I was younger. I need to buy some more lotions & creams with SPF in them.

    I actually have an appointment with a doctor next week about some spots on my face & one on my foot. I am nervous as hell & scared to hear bad news. Hopefully things will be better than what my negative thoughts are telling me.

    From now on I will definitely be better about protecting my skin. Thank you again for posting this Kelly!

  • May 9, 2013
    Lesley

    Thanks for the post. I am pale and just accept it…I don’t mess around with fake tanners (they are messy, smelly, hard to perfect, and often look bad, in my opinion) and have never purposely tanned (like in a tanning bed) in my life. I have worn sunscreen on my face every day since I was probably like 13 (an aesthetician recommended it to me) and use “high proof” on my body if I’m going to be in the sun (which is rare, haha). One of my best friend’s brothers had a pretty bad case of skin cancer where he had pretty major surgery to remove it (he is thankfully OK) and, since then, I have been obnoxiously preachy to anyone who doesn’t use sunscreen. ;) I guess being tan makes you look thinner, but…I’m not going to mess around with all that gunk just for a slight illusion.

  • May 9, 2013

    Fantastic post! I agree that it is such a pain to find hand creme with spf! I think it is the first place to age since its in the sun the most and we wash our hands so much and wash away any spf we may have put on.

    one part of the body I always forget about is the cleavage. I have known people who have put spf on their faces all their lives, but forgot the cleavage. It is not a good look as they get older!

    Since you are a fellow pale girl (I am quite proud that I glow in the dark ^__^) What do you think of spray on sunscreen? I have the hardest time finding body sunscreen that well, doesn’t smell like sunscreen.
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    • May 9, 2013

      I am not much of a fan of the spray-on ones myself. I do like that they are easy, but I hate that they feel stickier and I don’t feel like I really *know* how much is landing on my body. Plus you have to do them outside because they are SO stinky indoors!

  • May 9, 2013

    I have to admit I’m not as good about applying it as should be but I’m trying now that I’m older and realize how important it really is, specially for someone with pale skin like me. That being said, I avoid being in the sun as much as possible.

    Pale Hate gets on my nerves sometimes. I’m pale and I love it, always have, but most people around here seem to have a problem with my pasty white skin as if me being pale offended them in some way.

  • May 9, 2013
    Melissa

    I waited years to go to a dermatologist for one of those full body checks because I was chickenshit. I had 2 pretty bad sunburns and I knew that even one is enough to increase the risk of skin cancer. I finally went and was relieved that nothing was found. I was never one to sit out in the sun (other than those 2 idiotic times) because I overheat easily, I used Retin-A in high school which makes the user photosensitive, and I don’t tan. My skin goes from pale white to red, back to white. I graduated high school in ’91 & was one of the rare teens who wasn’t tan all summer. Now that I’m nearing 40 and my skin looks younger than would be expected, being called ‘Casper’ was well worth it. : )

    • May 9, 2013

      When I was 13 my friend had her birthday party at a local beach. It was super hot, I wore NO sunscreen whatsoever and was really burned. Then the next day I went to a local lake and laid out with no sunscreen again! This dude came up to me and said “you know you have 3rd degree burns all over right?” and I knew but didn’t really KNOW. That was the worst burn of my life, I couldn’t even go to school for a day or two. Learned my lesson!

  • May 9, 2013

    I like the temporary bronzing lotions like Pacifica, Lush and one of Bath and Body Works brand. They are just a bronze-shimmer.

    My husband has had 5 surgeries to remove melanoma. Each one is worse than the one before. The last one was on the side of his nose, up by the eye and it went all the way up into the crease in his lid. It looked horrible, with a gaping hole. We are lucky it healed over well. But he does have divets on his chest and arms from the other removals. I still have to get on him about wearing a hat and putting on sunscreen. As for me, I’m damn good about using it!
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  • May 9, 2013
    Katie

    Great post, very informative and well written! One product that’s helped me is a combination lotion and sunscreen for those days when I won’t be out in the sun but still want to protect myself. Though I’ve heard the SPF number at a certain point does not make much of a difference, I usually wear 85 when I’m going to be in the sun.

    I wish that society and the media wasn’t pushing tanned skin over natural beauty. It pains me to see my friends trying to get tan when I worry about their safety. Hopefully, there will be more skin cancer awareness in the future and the prevalency of skin cancer will decrease. Great post Kelly!

  • May 9, 2013
    chelsea

    I’m so glad people are talking about this! Both my Grandma and her sister have both had skin cancer from there sun basking back in the 50’s, her sister had to have a big section of flesh removed from her lower leg and then a skin graft from her thigh, it was incredibly painful for her and as she’s elderly the healing was difficult and five years on she still experiences a lot of sensitivity in both the area where the cancer was removed and the area the skin graft was taken from.. it is something I would never wish anyone to experience.

    I embrace my pale skin, but i’ve been suffering from acne for the past few years and I can’t tell you the amount of people who have suggested regular sunbeds to help clear my skin.. no thanks!

  • May 9, 2013
    • May 9, 2013

      I would have to see A LOT more scientific studies on that before I believe it. Thanks for sharing!

  • May 9, 2013
    Vivien

    Thank you for spreading the word on this topic, and I’m really glad you mentioned the part about tanned skin being a fad. I hope more people realize that paleness isn’t a bad thing. It irks me when people say things like, “ugh summer is almost here and I’m so pale. I need to start tanning”. When did it become a requirement to look tan in the summer time? Lol! I think the pale goddess look is way better than burnt beach hobo, plus you’ll thank yourself down the road.

    I’m a BB cream girl, and I just went out and purchased Skin 79 Orange to replace my usual Skin 79 Pink. Hello SPF50 PA+++!!

  • May 9, 2013
    Cait

    This is a great post! Love it!

  • May 9, 2013

    Thand
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  • May 9, 2013

    Thank you so much for posting this! As a medical student and one who had skin cancer drilled into them from oncology, it’s helpful to know there are some people out there who take their skin’s health seriously (it is an organ after all, the largest one in fact!) I am African American and I still use sunscreen, and my daughter is fair skinned, so she gets it slapped on too, regardless of the pre-conceived notions of others. Great post!
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  • May 9, 2013
    Emily

    This post hits home for me. My mom was diagnosed in 06′ with Melanoma and had a huge portion of the site on her stomach removed: major surgery. It then came back as breast cancer in 11′. She is clear for now but obviously went through a lot and needs constant monitoring. My Husband was also diagnosed with skin cancer on his ear and unfortunately needs plastic surgery soon. He is a roofer so hes always in the sun..and closer to it! So everyone play it safe..it definitely is dangerous life threatening and doesn’t discriminate!! Thanks Kelly for the post. Pale is healthier and better! I want to look 70 when I am 70..not look 70 when I’m 40 ;)

  • May 9, 2013
    Ricky

    I live outside of Milwaukee, WI “The City of Festivals” and towards the end of August every year is Irish Fest.

    Its the one festival I can go to & be around “my people” (other proud & pasties). There are no judging looks from anyone because we all glow in the sunlight, blinding in our pale glory! I bought the most rockin’ black t-shirt last year that proudly declares “Pale is the Tan”

  • May 9, 2013
    Ricky

    Pale is the *NEW Tan. D’oh!

    • May 10, 2013

      Love that!

  • May 9, 2013
    Samantha

    I’m blonde-haired, blue eyed, pale skin, have freckles, have had at least three really bad burns in my life (most probably more) and I have had one freckle taking out for testing (it was nothing, but not the point) so this is a subject kind of really close to me. BUT saying that – it’s hard for me to put sunscreen on every day, and I know I should, but I don’t.. I think it’s because i hate the feel of sunscreen and I always feel oily and dirty with it on. And finding a moisturiser with SPF that doesn’t make my face break out is so hard, so thanks for those suggestions!
    I really wish pale skin was celebrated WAY more than it is. My friends are tanned and I’ve always been teased for my pale skin, but now i’m getting used to and learning to love my skin for how it is. I just have so many freckles it’s hard to keep track of them all!
    Thanks so much for this post!

  • May 9, 2013
    Beth

    Great article! I’m a natural redhead so I don’t tan at all…never tried the tanning lotions either because I think it would look very unnatural on me. There is nothing wrong with being pale. :) Thanks for the reminder about SPF on hands and lotion suggestions. I’ll have to give those a try!

  • May 10, 2013

    Great post! Like many, I’ve not been protecting myself from the sun enough. This is partly due to the fact that the effects of sun damage are not immediately visible or felt – so I tend to neglect protection…which is bad as the dangers and damage really adds up over time. I’d make sun protection part of my lifestyle from now on

  • May 10, 2013
    Raquel

    I read somewhere that sunscreens that don’t give the skin a white cast aren’t protecting the skin from photo aging as much as ones that do give a white cast. If I remember correctly, it has to do with the size of the active ingredients and if they sit on top of the skin creating a barrier, versus sinking down into the pores. I want as much photo age prevention as possible. Have you ever read anything like that? I think I tan more if I don’t get a white cast from sunscreen, but it might be in my head.

    • May 10, 2013

      I haven’t read anything about that before. I’ve never noticed any difference though in how much of a “tan” I get by using them or using ones that don’t do that.

  • May 10, 2013
    KD

    I just want to point out, being naturally dark is no reason to not wear sunscreen! You are still at risk for skin cancer no matter the color of your skin.

    If you are concerned about vitamin D production, take vitamin D3. It is much safer than sun exposure, and if you live in the north like I do, the only way you’re going to get enough anyway, regardless of how long you stay in the sun.

  • May 11, 2013
    Sb_sweetie

    VV, thanks for putting attention on this. I am religious about putting on sunscreen each morning (my fave is Cliniques face cream in yellow tube, which is SPF 30). Then I apply makeup. Here’s my problem: how to adequately reapply the sunscreen? With my makeup already on, the last thing I want to do is slather face cream on every couple of hours, yet that is what we are told to do. Anyone out there have suggestions for “touching up” your sunscreen throughout the day? I really struggle with how to do this over makeup. Are there light sprays or powders that work? My skin breaks out with mineral makeup, so that’s out. Thanks in advance!

    • May 12, 2013

      Ah yes I wondered about that also! But there are some touch-up powders from a few different brands that have sunscreen in them. Physicians Formula has one I believe and bareMinerals (except you might break out) and a few others.

      • May 12, 2013
        Sb_sweetie

        Thanks for your reply, VV. I will keep an eye out for those powders. I wish cosmetics companies would bring out more products to address this issue. Oh well!, there’s always just wearing a hat!

  • May 11, 2013
    Celine

    I’m a sunscreen user myself since I know how important it is, and same reason I don’t want to end up looking older than I am. I just went out and bought a mineral based sunscreen today since I heard that physical blockers are better for you than the chemical ones. One thing though that annoys me when it comes to sunscreen this and that, is the not go out in the sun from 10-4. Like, that’s a whole Summer day wasted! I have a pool, and I’m not going to avoid it until 4 pm haha Just saying!

  • May 11, 2013
    Markel MIgnoe

    YOU KEEP DELETING MY COMMENTS because I guess you don’t like that I said some sunscreens can be just as TOXIC and cause CANCER as getting too much sun.

    It’s pretty disingenuous of you to delete the comments you don’t like.

    • May 12, 2013

      I haven’t been deleting any comments, no need to yell. Sometimes people who haven’t commented before wind up in my spam folder. As far as your concerns about cancer and sunscreens I personally don’t believe it, I think it’s junk science so far.

  • May 12, 2013
    Savannah

    I’m lucky to have olive skin so I always have that warmish glow to my skin, I like a slight tan. I try to use sunscreen and I’m dying to find one for my face that won’t make me break out or have my makeup slide right off. I’m also scared to try some lotion and later find out the ingredients were crap. * sigh* time to get a hat and stay out if the sun. Plus I have a question, when you put on sunscreen ( if you’re an avid user) and you go outside, if you still get a tan does that mean the product is ineffective?

  • May 12, 2013
    corey

    Thanks for this post! Sun protection is worth being preachy about!

    I am very pale and freckled and have been trying to make a concerted effort to wear sunscreen after too many years of neglect. Unfortunately, I have discovered that I am allergic to all of the chemical sunscreens on the market (oxybenzone, avobenzone, homosalate, etc.) and must stick to physical sunscreens (zinc and titanium dioxide). There are very few sunscreens on the market that use physical sunscreens only, though, and most are a glaring blue-white, even when absorbed. I’ve taken to mixing my high SPF BB cream (missha perfect cover- it has no chemical sunscreen) with Neutrogena Pure & Free liquid sunscreen (a clown-makeup-white liquid; I don’t see it in stores anymore so I assume it was discontinued) to at least wind up looking moderately normal. It is sort of weird to slather a beige-tinted mineral slurry on my arms, chest, and neck but at least it looks more natural than giving off a blue-white glow all day.

    I also wish companies would offer a wider range of standalone sunblocks (chemical and physical) rather than just adding chemical sunscreens to every damn product they make! I can’t even use a lot of the blushes, foundations, moisturizers, lipsticks, and concealers on the market because they have chemical sunscreen added. My allergy aside, though, I think that throwing an SPF label on everything tricks consumers into thinking they don’t need a dedicated sunblock or that they are actually going to get significant protection with a sweep of blush or a dot of concealer.