May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month so it’s the perfect time to talk all things sun protection before summer officially starts. I don’t know about you but I plan on spending a lot of time outside so I’m stocking up on sunscreen!
Did you know that serious sunburns can put you at a higher risk for skin cancer?! I don’t mean to scare you, I just want you to know how important it is to keep your skin safe from the sun!
I have a history of non-melanoma skin cancer in my family, so I am very committed to applying sunscreen, getting my skin examined by a dermatologist annually and making sure I’m up to speed on the best ways to protect myself. To date, I have probably had about a dozen moles removed because they posed a cancer threat. In a way it was a blessing to have serious discussions about skin cancer during my childhood because it prepared me to take action as an adult.
So, if no one has ever had the skin cancer talk with you, listen up: you have to protect yourself and your kids!
I talked to Dr. Rita Fisler, a board-certified dermatologist at Epiphany Dermatology in Peoria, AZ for the best information on sun protection possible. Please read and practice her advice!
- How does Arizona compare to the rest of the country when it comes to skin cancer risk? Arizona has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country. We believe this is due to several reasons – first, Arizona has over 250 days of sunshine per year, and also because more people are engaged in outdoor activities throughout the year, compared to many other states.
- What are the easiest ways to protect ourselves from skin cancer? The sun causes DNA damage, which then can lead to the growth of skin cancers and precancers. So sunscreen, sun protective clothing, seeking shade when possible, and avoiding being out during peak sun hours (10-4) are all important strategies. There are also supplements such as Heliocare and Vit B3, which can help reverse the DNA damage we sustain from the sun, but the best way to fix that dangerous DNA damage is to stop it from happening in the first place! We can avoid the more deadly or more aggressive skin cancers by getting regular full skin exams by a dermatologist. And if someone isn’t taking the time to look through your scalp or between your toes, then it’s not a complete exam!
- How do we know if we are at high risk for skin cancer? Anyone can get skin cancer, no matter what the skin type! We have a higher risk for the non-melanoma skin cancers if we have had blistering sunburns, have had a lot of lifetime sun exposure (DNA damage is cumulative!) are fair-skinned, or have red or auburn hair. Risk factors for melanoma include all of the above, as well as a family history of melanoma, many moles, and history of some other types of cancer such as breast cancer and pancreatic cancer.
- What should you do if you see something questionable on your skin? Are there any ways to tell on your own if a mole/spot is cancerous or not? The only way that has been clinically proven to determine if a mole or spot is cancerous is to do a biopsy. Dermatologists spend years learning to recognize moles and spots that might be cancerous, and use tools such as dermoscopy, but even then, the only 100 percent way to tell is to take a sample and have a dermatopathologist look at the spot under the microscope. Many times the spots that patients come in to have me evaluate are benign, but then I will see something else on their back or other parts of their body, that end up being a skin cancer or precancerous mole that they didn’t know they had! That is why we always advise patients get full skin exams, even if they are only coming in for one spot or for another issue.
- For those of us who want to commit a little more to sun protection, what products/protocol should we be aware of? I love the broad spectrum (UVA and UVB) mineral sunscreens that go on easily and provide some DNA repair as well. My favorites are the ISDIN Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50 lotion, that I use everywhere because it’s light, easy to apply, and gives great coverage and repair, ELTAMD Clear for the face and UV Sport for the body, Skin Better’s Sheer Stick SPF 56 that I use on my face before I go out running or hiking, and Skin Medica’s Total Defense and Repair. I also love the Colorescience powder or the ISDIN SPF 50 powder, that I reapply during the workday to freshen up my protection.
- What are the most common mistakes you see people making when attempting to protect their skin? People forget to reapply sunscreen! They can often make the mistake of thinking that if they apply it once in the morning, that they are good for the rest of the day in the sun. I often try to remind them that chemical sunscreens will absorb the UV light and then they degrade, so there is no longer any protective benefit from the lotion or cream.
- Is there anything else you want to add about sun protection? The best protection for all day activities, for children, and for those who dislike sunscreens or are unable to reapply, is sun protective clothing! Coolibar, Solumbra, REI and even Walmart and Target now all sell protective shirts, hats, and I always recommend gloves if people want to avoid skin cancers and those unattractive freckles on the backs of the hands!
For my protocol Dr. Fisler recommended IDSIN sun care products. I started using the SUNISDIN, a once-a-day antioxidant supplement designed to defend against photoaging and their Eryfotona Actinica SPF 50+ sunscreen. I also have the sunscreen in powder form for touch ups on the go. Life changing stuff!!
To make a skin exam appointment with Dr. Fisler or to learn more about all Epiphany Dermatology offers, head here or call (623) 487-3003.