Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day...No Time to Put Away the Sunscreen!

It’s Labor Day.  Summer is unofficially over.  If you or your kids aren’t back in school already, they’ll more than likely start very soon.  It’s time to put away the beach towel, the boogie boards and the sunscreen, right?

Wrong!  Okay…the beach towel and boogie board can get stowed away, but that sunscreen needs to remain in your medicine cabinet or bathroom counter!  Even though the hot summer sun won’t be shining so high in the sky, it still emits those UV rays that damage your skin.

Many people associate heat with sun exposure.  If it’s not hot, the sun can’t be causing any harm…right?  The truth is sun exposure can be damaging even in the cold winter months.  While UVB rays, which cause burning, are weaker in the mornings and afternoons as well as the non-summer months, UVA rays are at their full intensity.  Yep…UVA rays are as strong in mid-winter as mid-summer, from sun-up to sun down.

UVA rays are more commonly associated with aging and wrinkling.  They also penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays (thus not associated with burning as much).  This deeper penetration causes significant and irreversible damage to your skin that may not be noticed for months or years down the road.  It’s important to protect yourself year round!

How?  Use sunscreen, but be well aware of what your sunscreen protects.  The SPF rating of a sunscreen indicates its ability to protect against UVB rays.  The SPF rating has no bearing on how well you’re protected against UVA rays!  It’s important to use a sunscreen that is “broad spectrum” or offers UVA/UVB protection.  Otherwise, you may not be protected from UVA rays at all!

Even if you have the right sunscreen, it doesn’t offer all the protection you need.  That low autumn or winter sun plays havoc on your eyes, especially when driving.  Most likely you’ll be wearing sunglasses, but again, it’s important to wear the right type.  Did you know that 70% of UVA rays penetrate glass?  Yes…even eye glasses and car window glass.  Don’t simply by glasses with a darker tint.  It’s important to select sunglasses rated with 100% UV protection…these will deflect the UVA rays as well as UVB rays.

As the air gets cooler, you’ll most like wear longer sleeves and slacks.  This should provide good sun protection, but don’t forget your exposed neck, face, ears and hands.  Apply sunscreen as mentioned before, but also wear a hat.  A wide-brimmed hat is preferred over a ball cap in order to protect your neck and ears.


I hope this past summer created great memories while you protected yourself against the sun.  But please don’t forget that sun protection is a year-round event.  Stay sun safe!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Kings Island Kicks Cancer


When I was a kid growing up in St. Albans, West Virginia (near Charleston), one of the best day-cations we would take every year was a trip to King’s Island just north of Cincinnati, Ohio.  My parents would wake my brother and me up well before sunrise and we’d hop in the car for the 3 ½ to 4 hour drive to Mason, Ohio…usually stopping for breakfast at the original Bob Evans farm near Gallipolis, Ohio.  Spotting the 333 feet Eiffel Tower from Interstate 71 set our hearts racing and we knew we’d soon be stopping in the Penelope Pitstop section of the massive parking lot and riding the shuttle to the main gate.  Carousels, rides, shows…this place had it all.  As little kids, we’d hold our parents’ hands and drag them to each attraction.  As teenagers, we’d venture out on our own and seek every thrill ride, and perhaps a cute girl we’d never meet again.  But the highlight of the day back then was challenging the longest wooden roller coaster in the world…”The Beast!”  Whipping through the woods at 65 MPH caused us to scream in delight and terror all at once.  It was the best.

It’s been years…no, decades since I’ve been to Kings Island, but the memories I have are still some of the best ever.  So it was with great interest and pride that I saw where the amusement park had launched a program called “Kings Island Kicks Cancer.”  From July 25 through August 24, park guests can purchase a soccer ball for $5 to kick into the park’s massive fountain.  


Each ball is an entry to win a 201 Honda Fit, plus net proceeds benefit three cancer charities: TheDragonfly Foundation, Pink Ribbon Girls, and Melanoma Know More!

Today, August 9, 2014, Kings Island and Melanoma Know More teamed up to organize a world record-setting event.  2,148 people applied sunscreen at one place at the same time!  


This beat the previous world record of 1,822 set in May by Ann’s Hope Foundation, another great organization raising funds for melanoma research and education.

Ever since melanoma entered my life after my brother’s diagnosis and eventual death, I have heard melanoma referred to as “The Beast.”  Every time I’ve heard those words, I was reminded of the good times at Kings Island, tackling a different Beast.  Today, these two parts of my life merged in a beautiful way…one beast fighting another.


Events like this are a fun way to educate people about melanoma, to encourage sun safety, and to answer the Surgeon General’s Call to Action against skin cancer.  Thank you Kings Island…and thank you friends at Melanoma Know More.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Psoriasis and Tanning Beds

Credit: Rich McDonald
I ran across a headline during a general Google search stating, “Kim Kardashian At Ulta – Promotes Kardashian Sun Kissed.”  This was immediately next to another headline touting, “Kim Kardashian  Flaunts Cleavage in Tight Pink Dress.”  The second headline itself was no more shocking to me than, “Scientists Determine that Water is Wet.”  However, the first headline grabbed my attention as I wanted to see whether or not Mrs. West was promoting “safe” tanning products or tanning enhancers.

When I clicked the link, there she was in her tight pink dress and plenty of cleavage.  In truth, all things Kardashian, or any name associated with tabloid headline pandering, simply turns me off.  To use an old cliché, I was reading this for the article.

Sure enough, Kim was appearing at a Los Angeles Ulta Beauty Store to promote the Kardashian Sun Kissed tanning line.  While her tanning product line does include self-tanning products, it also includes a “tanning extender” which is used after tanning to lengthen the life of one’s tan.  This didn't surprise me at all as I had little faith that any Kardashian would promote sun safety, despite having had episodes of skin cancer in the family.  While there was no surprise in the article, there was one major face-palm quote from Kim.

When I travel, the one thing that makes me feel alive whether or not I have makeup on is a tan, especially in my face. When you travel, you can’t just go lay out. I do like regular tanning because I have psoriasis, and the tanning beds are particularly good for that.

Tanning beds are good for that…that being good for the treatment of psoriasis?  I've heard that before.  I’ve addressed it before.  But I’ll address it again.

If you search the internet for “Psoriasis and tanning beds,” you’ll find a variety of information on both sides of the argument.  The fact is that Phototherapy is indeed a legitimate way to treat psoriasis.  Ultraviolet B rays (UVB) penetrates the skin and slows the growth of the affected cells.  Treatment is recommended to be administered on a set schedule by a medical professional, although there are home-based systems available by prescription only.  Sometimes, the UVB therapy is combined with a topical agent or other medication to make the treatments more efficient.  UVA rays are also used in other forms of light therapy, but only in conjunction with a medication psoralen which makes the skin more sensitive and much be monitored VERY closely.  All therapies described above, in fact are monitored closely by a health care specialist.  

So tanning beds should be a good alternative…right?  Wrong!  The majority of tanning beds emit primarily UVA rays which are mostly ineffective against psoriasis, unless combined with psoralen as mentioned above.  But again, this medication causes the skin to be much more light-sensitive and severe burning will occur.  There are tanning beds that emit UVB rays, but they are hardly regulated for intensity and not properly adjusted for specific treatment of psoriasis.

The National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF) has this to say about tanning beds:

Phototherapy (light therapy), performed under medical supervision is safe, effective, and cost-effective. The National Psoriasis Foundation does not support the use of indoor tanning beds as a substitute for phototherapy performed with a prescription and under the supervision of a physician. Only medical professionals should provide and advertise light therapy for the treatment of psoriasis.

The NPF goes on to say that the “spectra of light in tanning beds vary greatly and often include wavelengths of light that are carcinogenic and photo-damaging.” The NPF’s full statement on tanning beds can be found here.

There are plenty of accounts online from people that claim that tanning beds DID help with their psoriasis, and I don’t doubt that they believe that.  Many people don’t consider other influences that may have simultaneously impacted their improved condition.  Did they change their medication?  Were there other changes?  Or did their condition improve simply from the placebo effect?  I don’t often doubt that when something works, it works.  But at the same time, I feel it’s best to take the advice of medical professionals devoted to the treatment of this skin condition rather than trust the declaration of a tabloid celebrity.



Disclaimer reminder…I’m not a medical professional.  I’m just a guy that’s expressing his opinion based on what I've read in articles from various organizations and individuals representing various views related to melanoma and skin cancer.  My opinions are mine and I’m not paid by anyone to express them.  And trust me, I wish I were getting paid just to be me.  But then again, if I was, I’d probably be a Kardashian.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Pampering Ignorance

Groupon recently revealed the country’s most pampered cities, based upon total spending on the company’s pampering coupon deals.   These deals included haircuts and coloring, nails, facials, teeth whitening and, yes, tanning.  Overall, Green Bay, Wisconsin was ranked as the most pampered city, based mostly on their ranking in facials (#1) and hair care (#2).  No doubt, cheesehead hats combined with green and yellow face paint wrecks havoc on one’s face and hair.  White Plains, NY and Cleveland, OH were the next two on the list.

Groupon also listed each winning city by category.  The “winning” city for cashing in on the most tanning coupons is Shreveport, LA.  The Louisiana city will very likely lose that distinction soon as Louisiana has banned minors from tanning salons as of this past week (August 1).. 

Sadly, this bit of trivial news supports that tanning is still considered a pampering luxury…at least by Groupon.  One would hope that perhaps the recent Call to Action would encourage Groupon and other such services to refuse to offer coupons for tanning salons.  Based on the number of tanning discounts I found on a quick search, it’s highly unlikely. 

Perhaps the fight against artificial tanning will follow the same path as cigarettes.  It was 1965 when cigarette packages were required to contain the Surgeon General’s warning that tobacco use can be hazardous to your health.  In 1971, cigarette advertisements on television and radio were discontinued.  Smoking was banned on interstate busses and domestic airline flights of less than 6 hours in 1990.  Joe Camel and other advertising deemed aiming at minors was sent packing in 1995.  Nowadays, smoking is not allowed in many public places, including the old staple of smoke-filled rooms, the bar.  Even in tobacco-rich North Carolina, there are significant restrictions on smoking. 

People still smoke, but I would be willing to bet that nearly every one of them knows that it’s bad for them.  How often have you seen or heard a smoker state, “yeah, I know these things will kill me…” before lighting up?  How many times have smokers referred to cigarettes as cancer sticks?  Tobacco use is down, but it’s not out, and I doubt we can ever expect it to be.  We need to have the same expectations for tanning.

If the current trend continues and the Surgeon General’s warnings are heeded, tanning will be banned for minors across the country within the next few years.  It’s not a matter of if, but when.  Yet, people will tan.  I’m hoping the difference then versus now will be a lack of ignorance.  I would guess that most tanners today are ignorant.  Yes, many are stupid and stubborn, but some are just plain ignorant because they simply don’t realize that tanning dangerous for one’s health.

The FDA now requires that tanning beds contain a warning that such devices should not be used by individuals under 18.  I would like to see required signs at the front door of each establishment that offers UV tanning that states the same thing.  Or better yet, the sign should state that UV tanning is hazardous to one’s health and have a nice photo of a severe skin cancer excision.  From that point forward, tanners of the future will no longer be ignorant because they would be reminded every time they walked through the door.  They will be idiots, but they will not be ignorant.


The battle against tanning is one fight within a huge war against melanoma, but it’s our most public and controversial battle.  Our mission is to eradicate the disease, but one of our more subtle goals should be not just to increase melanoma awareness, but to eliminate melanoma ignorance among those who wish to continue tanning.  Getting skin cancer of any type is not a form of pampering.   

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Call to Action


What exactly is a “Call to Action?”  In the sales world, a Call to Action (or CTA…sales people have to use acronyms) is a word or phrase that urges others to take immediate action, as in “Write now!” “Call now!” or “Click Here!”  It’s the punch line after the sale pitch.

I use CTA phrases all the time in my blogs.  “Wear sunscreen!”  “Get checked!  “Be sun safe!”  Of course, my calls to action do not necessarily result in a prize or reward, but they do attempt to inspire some type of action on the reader’s part with regard to melanoma awareness and sun safety.

The Surgeon General issued a Call to Action today.  His website states that a call to action is “a science-based document to stimulate action nationwide to solve a major public health problem.”  When the Surgeon General issues a CTA, it’s serious.  This is only the 10thth CTA that the Surgeon General’s office has issued in the 21st century!  Previous calls to action include preventing suicide, obesity and underage drinking and supporting breast feeding.

Today’s Call to Action is to Prevent Skin Cancer.  I know you’ve read about it.  Its big news in melanoma nation and is being covered by all major news organizations.  (In case you missed it, here's the Executive Summary)  I was fortunate to learn last night about the web broadcast of the Surgeon General’s announcement this morning.  The atmosphere I witnessed was nothing short of electric and optimistic.  I’d never seen nor heard of Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak before, but he made quite an impression.  I expected the acting Surgeon General to be staunch and serious, but he was light-hearted, energetic, and passionate.  He’s the type of person you’d want to be your doctor (he’s a dermatologist).  He’s the type of person for whom you would take action.

All the statistics that I and other melanoma advocates have been spouting for years were presented.  But in this case, it was the Surgeon General conveying that melanoma is on the rise while other cancers are declining.  It was the Surgeon General stating that one person dies from melanoma every hour and 6,000 cases of melanoma a year are attributed to tanning beds.  It was the friggin’ Surgeon General who repeatedly stated that “tan skin is damaged skin.”  And while people have listened to the grass-roots efforts of bloggers and Facebookers, ears were definitely perked today.  News organizations acted like this was breaking news.  The true breaking news is that they are finally listening!

The Surgeon General’s office also had a conference call with “stakeholders” in the afternoon.  I admit that I snuck into this one on a “borrowed” pass.  When I called, I gave my name, and when asked for my “affiliation,” I stated that I am a skin cancer awareness blogger.  I thought for sure I’d be kindly told this was invitation only, but to my surprise, I was in for the listening.  There was no news different than the morning’s announcement, but it was just as exciting.  Rear Admiral Lushniak addressed that many were afraid that the Call to Action would get lost in the pile of hot news stories today.  Ebola virus.  The Gaza Strip.  Ukraine.  However, he was happy to report that his time between the morning’s announcement and the afternoon conference call was packed with requests and interviews.  “We are breaking news and people are hearing our call to action!”

Going back to the Call to Action…what does it mean for me and you?  It means we need to take action.  We have done our part by making people aware of melanoma.  While we should never stop that campaign, it’s now time to take action against melanoma.  Attend a fundraiser.  Write your government representative, whether national or your neighborhood home owner’s association and petition for more umbrellas at the pool.  Encourage the PTA to install shade structures on the playgrounds.  Ask the school board to reconsider their policy on sunscreen use for kids.  Demand local coupon flyers refuse to post tanning salon discounts.  Organize a church or civic event to buy sunscreen for financially-strapped families.  TEACH YOUR CHILDREN! 


Answer the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Skin Cancer!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Is the App "iTanSmart" a smart choice?

I ran across a review for a suntan app called “iTanSmart.”  Let me share the information about this product first, and then I’ll share my thoughts at the end (you know I have something to say...)

The basic features for this app are available for free from the Apple Store.  For $1.99, the app will block advertisements, provide a list of medical conditions and related drugs that may increase one’s sun sensitivity, track user’s total daily sun exposure and vitamin D production, and offer specialized settings for children.

The app requires that the user enter the following criteria:
  •         Whether you are managing for sunburn or for tanning.
  •         Your skin type (very fair to dark)
  •         Your level of sun protection.
  •         Your location (environment and directness of sunlight, such as Beach or Mountains, Sunny or Cloudy)

The video for this product claims the app takes the guesswork out of sun tanning by alerting users when to get out of the sun or when to reapply sunscreen.   The app uses “real time UV data from space satellites to measure the current and maximum UV index in your location.”  The video goes on to say that the four day UV forecast is perfect for vacationers and avid sunbathers.  They can even see the forecast in vacationing towns so they can pack the “appropriate SPF and outer wear.”

iTanSmart will alert you with audible chimes when it’s time to leave the sun or reapply sunscreen.  Oh…and when maximum vitamin D production has occurred (emphasizing that all this occurs before over exposure).
The developer of iTanSmart and president of UV Technologies, LLC has been recently diagnosed with basal cell carcinoma and had it removed surgically.  He’s now reportedly more determined to get this valuable tool out to the public. 

The video concludes with a testimonial from an attractive, fair-skinned red haired woman:  “I have a very fair complexion, and in the past when I've laid out in the sun I either got no color or burned badly.  Since downloading this app a month ago, and using it often, I haven’t burned once!  I even have tan lines, which I typically only get after a burn subsides.  I am SO glad I downloaded this app!”

At first glance, the intent of this product seems to be towards sun protection, but there are some serious flags and flaws with the product information.  First of all, let’s look at the product name:  “I tan smart?”  Really?  I know and I hope that you know that there is no such thing as a smart tan.  Tanned skin is damaged skin.  Period.

The next flag for me is that the first criterion one enters is whether or not to manage your exposure for sunburn or for tanning.  Again, tanning is bad.  There should be no choice on what to manage.
Admittedly, I like the other input.  Let’s say for instance that I typically wear SPF 30 and I go to the neighborhood pool.  I notice that I somehow packed SPF 15 instead.  I could enter this value into the app and hopefully find out if there is a different frequency to how often I should reapply.  Then again, I could simply know that SPF 30 is recommended always…and I should always reapply every 2 hours.  My phone and tablet have a timer, so no app needed.  If I happen to pack SPF 15 by mistake, simply apply more often.

I also like the list of medical conditions and medications that could increase sun sensitivity.  I have taken medication for my cholesterol for so long that I haven’t read the medical information about the drugs in years.  I honestly couldn’t tell you whether or not my sensitivity is affected.

However, I’m leery of the emphasis on Vitamin D production.  Yes, I know that the sun is a source for Vitamin D and that the tanning industry screams of its health benefits.  I also know that almost every breathing dermatologist will recommend Vitamin D intake through diet and/or supplements.  It personally takes me seconds in the morning to digest a supplement that costs pennies each.

Lastly, the lady who shares her testimonial does nothing to tout the app as a tool for sun protection.  She states enthusiastically that she has tan lines without burning!  I’ll say again…tanned skin is damaged skin!  I really don’t think the developer of this app understands this, despite having had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his arm!

I’m sure I could input settings into iTanSmart that would do exactly as I would request in such an app…to inform me of the local UV index, to remind me to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or get out of the sun and to aid in sun protection.  But unfortunately, there seems to be far too much flexibility and product attitude to encourage users to get a tan, and therefore increase their risk of sun damage and skin cancer.  Tan management is not sun protection.


Please understand that this personal opinion is based solely on the product video that I’ve watched and I have not tried this app for myself.  (This product is not available on Android yet).  You can watch the video here.  If you have downloaded and tried iTanSmart, please feel free to share your thoughts with me.  If you find it to be a good tool for sun protection (and not tan management) I will be more than happy to share such thoughts right here.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Lefty

In the spirit of another blogger’s confession, I’ll admit that I haven’t always been so diligent about applying sunscreen every day.  On weekends, I’m the poster boy for sunscreen application as I apply it before walking out the door, especially when I’m working in the yard or just spending time outdoors.  But on the week days, I have convinced myself that my exposure to the sun is very limited and that sunscreen might not be needed.

I have a 25 minute commute which starts at 7:30 each morning.  I drive north, which means the morning sun is mostly blocked as it shines dimly through the passenger-side window.  I work in a cubicle farm with absolutely no windows in the office or on the manufacturing floor.  Most of my work days last well past 5:00, so if the sun is still shining at all when I leave, it sets in the western sky through my passenger window again as I commute home.  I really get very little sun if at all.

Or so I thought.

One of the first things I do every work day morning is jump in the shower.  While this wakes me up a little, the sight of me in the full length mirror as I step out of the shower stall scares me fully awake.  After the shock, I take advantage of the mirror and take a quick look at my skin, looking for anything different.  Yes, I check my skin daily…perhaps a tad more than the recommended monthly check, but I figure if I’m exposed in the morning, why not?  I have a few larger moles that my dermatologist and general practitioner have deemed healthy, but I watch closely anyhow.  In fact, my skin check is usually quite close up using a hand mirror.  But what I noticed the other day was during the initial step out of the shower…a “wider picture” if you will.

I noticed that I have basically no tan lines, except along my left tricep.  My left arm is at least a subtle shade darker than my right.  When I wear a polo shirt (my typical work attire), the difference is not noticeable, but when I’m in shower mode, the darker arm is clear as day.

There are a couple reasons for this.  First of all, while a window will block most UVB rays (the ones that cause burning), a majority of the UVA rays (the ones responsible for skin aging and used in most tanning beds) penetrate and shine right on your skin.  Despite being on the side opposite of the sun as I drive, my left side is still more exposed to the sun than my right.  Remember this guy?


He’s the trucker that made the news a couple years ago because of the sun damage to the left side of his face.  Dermatoheliosis, or photoaging, is due to chronic exposure to UVA and UVB rays. The result is a gradual thickening and wrinkling of the skin.  Twenty-eight years of driving his truck led to this excessive exposure.

Of course, my commute offers me far less exposure than did this trucker, so my condition is nowhere near as drastic.  But there is one other factor to my darkened left arm.  The air conditioner has been busted in my car for well over a year.  Yes, I drive mostly with the window down and therefore rest my arm upon the door.  It’s still on the opposite side of the car from the rising or setting sun as I drive and it’s well outside of the peak sun hours of 10AM to 2PM, but it still rests unprotected as I drive.  Despite the apparent safer conditions, my left arm has a slight bit of sun damage.

In a slight bit of irony, just as I noticed my arm, the following ad from Banana Boat came to my attention.


Yep, that’s me.  Except now, I've learned my lesson.  Every morning as I get out of the shower (eeek!), I check my skin and then apply sunscreen to my arms and neck.  I also now keep a small bottle of sunscreen in my briefcase and apply it to my arms before heading home.

Please realize that sun exposure is constant from morning ‘til night.  While the early morning sunlight may seem safer, there are still UVA and UVB rays hitting your skin.  When you sit in your car (hopefully with air conditioning), the sun that shines through your wind shield still carries along UVA rays.  The same holds true of windows in your home or office…make sure to draw the shades or wear sunscreen!  Please be diligent and wear your sunscreen even when you’re convinced it’s not necessary.