I grew up in Southern California and the beach was my second home. Being outside in the warm sun, playing in the waves, and having a constant suntan is quite an awesome way to live! I do not remember my mom slathering me in sunscreen regularly. However, I do remember slathering suntan oil all over my body that was maybe an SPF 4. As I got into my teen years, I recall my sisters and I putting baby oil on before tanning on the deck. Burn, baby, burn.
In college, I complimented my beach regimen with occasional trips to the tanning salon. (This makes me cringe: how tan does one need to be??) Now maybe you can’t relate to any of this yet because you have fair skin, or you’ve lived in the midwest or up north your whole life! Just keep reading.
The diagnosis that changed everything.
In 2005, my obsession with being tan came to a screeching halt. My oldest sister was diagnosed with melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. She had a chunk cut out of the back of her leg, had biopsies of lymph nodes, and was told she needed to start a full year of chemotherapy. The cancerous mole had sat for a year unchecked and was now labeled stage 3A (down to the bone and spread to lymph nodes in her leg).
The statistics she was telling me scared me and I worried about her future. She would tell you that year of chemo was life-changing and not in the best of ways. On top of that, I was raising my first child. The demands of being a mom quickly lessened my mission to “get some tanning time.” I knew that my days of focusing on the sun were over. It was time to think about taking good care of my skin, something that had never occurred to me, at age 27.
But, life continued to move. Other than using SPF 15 during the summer, I didn’t do much to take care of my skin. One day I got a call from my sister asking if I had been to a dermatologist yet to get my skin checked. I admitted I hadn’t. She firmly asked that I do. Her tone was serious and I knew this was that important. This was a priority. So I made the appointment, never having visited a dermatologist.
My first dermatologist appointment. And my second.
My first skin check didn’t go down as it should have. We were living in Texas and the doctor was very rushed and not thorough at all. I think she spent 20 seconds looking me over and didn’t even talk to me about the history of familial skin cancer I wrote in my chart! But, once we moved here to Bloomington, I made an appointment with Dr. Talley Whang. She was very alarmed at my sister’s story and asked a lot of questions. She seemed very concerned and on a mission to check me over with great thoroughness. And she did!
She educated me on various spots on my skin that I’d wondered about for years, assuring me of things that were normal and of no concern. She took notes about placements of moles and skin tags. After the exam was over, her nurse talked to me about SPF that I needed to be wearing every day. The entire exam took maybe 20 minutes. But, I felt so relieved that I had been given a complete skin health exam. She said she wanted me back every year, without question.
Tips for Skin Sun Care
There is a lot to do to protect yourself from skin cancer, whether you’ve been a sun worshipper or not. Forget about the hassle or the perceived expense. It does not even compare to what you would endure if diagnosed with skin cancer.
- Wear 30-50 SPF on your face every single day of the year. It took some time trying to find the right facial moisturizer that had enough SPF and didn’t bother my sensitive skin. Here is the one I use and love.
- Wear at least 30 SPF when spending a lot of time outdoors (higher SPF for fairer skin tones). I buy 30 and 50 and the whole family uses them all during the warm spring and summer days. Make sure to reapply as the instructions state.
- Get yearly skin checks. This is the most important thing you can do! Most insurance plans will cover this. There is no excuse for skipping this 45-minute obligation once a year. You will feel better knowing that someone is keeping tabs on your skin, even when you forget. Make sure your doctor gives you a thorough exam and does not rush through it.
- Lastly, avoid tanning beds. This article sums it up well.
If no one in your close knit circle has had skin cancer it can be easy to disregard these warnings. Let me be the sister in motherhood asking you to make that appointment right now! You’ll be so glad you did. And, you are modeling skin health and responsibility to your children. They will watch what you do.