Style + Beauty Editor
Skin Cancer Prevention
Call me a reluctant vampire–here’s why the sun makes me run to my SPF 70
-Lois Joy Johnson
I love early dawn and after dusk, but I feel most relaxed in the dark of night. Am I a vampire? No but I’m familiar with the fear of daylight. When I first got my skin cancer biopsy back a little over a year ago, I was in full denial. No. Not me. Mistake at the lab, for sure! Except it wasn’t, and now Bettys, I want you to take seriously what I now personally know about skin cancer prevention.
First, know that I had no warning sign of cancer like any of the scary photos I’d seen in beauty magazines. There was no sore, no crusting, no discoloration, no itching, no oozing, no irregular borders on freckles. My eagle-eyed celebrity dermatologist Dr. Fredric Brandt (whom I share with Madonna, among others!) had spotted a shiny area on the tip of my nose. Being a smart-ass beauty editor, I thought I’d survived all those years of SPF 4 sunning and was now in the clear, having used an SPF 15 for the last 10 years.
So, long story short: I ended up having Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell carcinoma and a big chunk of my nose along with it, which ultimately was surgically reconstructed by the genius Dr. Daniel Baker with a graft from my ear. I’m telling you this because last week I visited Dr. Brandt for another skin cancer check, and he found a suspicious spot on my chin that needed a biopsy. I’m hoping it’s a fake-out.
All year long I have been slathering myself in Neutrogena Age Shield SPF 70, rain or shine, indoors or out. Last summer I crept along the shady side of the street during daylight hours like Edie Beale in Grey Gardens. Most of the time I was swathed in a big black chiffon scarf, sunglasses and a straw sunhat the size of Rio. Make no mistake about it–the sun is no longer FUN.
I’m warning you now before you get into bikini season. Get smart about this. Do I miss lying on the beach, basking in the warmth of the sun? Sure, but I missed my nose more when it was lobbed off my face.
Here’s what you need to learn and do ASAP to help prevent skin cancer:
• Get a skin cancer check–face and body–at your dermatologist now. The two most common forms of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma if found and treated have a 95 % cure rate according to the American Academy of Dermatology. If untreated, these skin cancers can grow below the surface to damage bones and nerves.
• Avoid blatant sun exposure, especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. “Lying out” is not an option anymore. It’s just plain stupid. Being outdoors is one thing, baking like a barbecued chicken is another. If you must be tan, use a self-tanner.
• Wear a UVA/ UVB sunscreen with at least an SPF of 30. UVB rays are the ones that cause burning, UVA rays penetrate deeper and cause DNA damage and photo-aging, so you need protection from both. Look for products with avobenzone, Helioplex or ingredients like Mexoryl SX, zinc oxide or titanium dioxide for the best protection. Using sunblock is not about just wearing a high number, it’s all about reapplying and doing so frequently! You also need generous coverage-use the amount in a shotglass.
• Be sure to get your hairline, ears, neck and cleavage, backs of your knees and your hands. Wear a lip balm with an SPF of at least 15 too; skin cancer of the lower lip can be critical. Sorry, but wearing face makeup that has an SPF 15 alone does not give you the same protection, even if you’re just running errands or going to work. Make the effort.
• Apply your sunscreen twenty minutes before exposure outdoors- it takes that long to be absorbed.
Follow these skin cancer prevention tips to play it safe with your skin–this summer and really, all year-round.