Saturday, June 30, 2012

Sunscreen...One Defense but Not the Only Defense

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) put out a report in May about the realities of sunscreen.  In short, they cite that the use of sunscreen could be ineffective and in some cases, damaging.  But you really have to read deeper into their words…far beyond the headline.

The report states that sunscreen may not, in fact prevent melanoma or basal cell carcinoma.  This correlates with a presentation I attended at UNC a couple months ago where Dr. Antony reported basically the same thing.  However, there was a study in Australia in 2011 that showed decreased risk of melanoma with regards to sunscreen users.  In short, the jury is still out, but most dermatologists still suggest the use of sunscreen.  The use of sunscreen may not be dangerous…it’s how we apply it.

It’s a fact that many of are guilty of…we don’t wear sunscreen every day.  When we do, it’s when we plan to spend a large amount of time outdoors on a sunny day.  Going to the pool or beach, going golfing, attending an outdoor festival…these are events that cause many of us to apply the lotion or spray.  It seems many of us equate sunscreen application with hot weather…as if it offers a cooling agent.  In reality, UV rays are immune to temperature…they’ll beat down upon you whether it’s hot, comfortable or cold.  To effectively fight off the daily affects of UV rays, we need to apply it every day.  As stated in “Dear 16 Year Old Me,” it’s a huge pain in the ass, but it’s worth it.

Many folks develop a false sense of security when they lather on the sunscreen.   Sometimes, even after a couple hours in the sun and in the pool, you can feel the lotion still on the skin so you feel like the sunscreen is still doing the job.  But the effectiveness of the sunscreen breaks down while the lotion itself may remain.  It’s important to reapply every two hours…even if you still feel it on you.

We also have to understand that sunscreen is not the only defense against UV rays and skin cancer.  It is ONE defense…but it can’t do the job alone.  We must be sun-safe and protect ourselves in other ways:

·       Wear a hat…one that protects your ears and neck is best.
·       Wear sunglasses that protect against UV rays.
·       Stay in the shade.  Trust me, not only does it help fight the UV rays, it feels a lot cooler on these 100+ degree days!
·       Avoid the midday sun.  If the length of your shadow is shorter than your height, the sun is giving you a full beat down.  Try to get out in the morning before 10:00 or the evening after 4:00.
·       Wear protective clothing.  Light but tight-woven fabrics are best…or seek out UV protective clothing at UV Skinz, Coolibar, or other such retailers.

Sunscreen is one good defense against UV rays and ultimately skin cancer, but it needs help in winning the battle.  Apply it correctly, apply it often, but don’t count on it to do all the work.   

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Spray Tanning...Good or Bad?

Did you see the recent report by ABC News regarding the potential health risks of spray tanning?  Yep…you read right…SPRAY tanning.  If you haven’t seen it, please check it out here.

I’ve never been 100% convinced that spray tanning was completely safe.  The idea of applying a chemical coloring agent to one’s skin never seemed like a great idea.  I’m not a chemical-phobic as I understand that there are chemicals in everything, including lotions, cosmetics, cologne and sunscreen.  Still, sunscreens are classified as a drug in this country (but not Europe) and are under strict scrutiny for safety before approval.  Tanless lotions and sprays are considered cosmetics and are not required to follow the same strict guidelines.

I’ve  not been very vocal about supporting spray tans in that I believe the best way to change the public view on tanning is to promote one’s natural skin tones.  Faking a tan implies that a tanned look is still better than one’s skin tone.  We will never EVER beat this tanning business until we convince people that they’re more beautiful, naturally!  Whether it’s safe or not…tanning just isn’t natural. (Cue the responses from the “tanning is natural” coalition).

There is one additional negative aspect to this report, besides the potential health risks.  When I was at the NC State Legislature Building, we mentioned to several folks (elected and otherwise) that our mission to introduce a tanning ban for minors wouldn’t put the tanning salons out of business.  This is a necessary debating point in that elected officials do not want to be associated with voting for unemployment of any kind.  The flyers we handed out promoted spray tanning as a more “lucrative option.”  In fact, I wrote in my own blog that perhaps spray tanning could be subsidized in exchange for the shut-down of individual tanning beds.  Oops.  Now that spray tanning has the potential to be unhealthy, the anti-tanning lobby needs another fall-back.

One last thought about the report itself.  It was emphasized that “tanning technicians” were simply uninformed about the risks of spray tanning.  Many made false or uninformed claims that the DHA chemical could be inhaled or ingested without risk and suggested that no protective nose plugs were necessary.  Hmm…”tanning salon employees being uninformed”…does this sound familiar?  I can’t say the individual workers are sleazy, but the fact that the industry in general failed to properly train or enlighten its employees speaks volumes.  This report hopefully will start enlightening the general public that tanning of any sort is just not worth the money.  And it’s our job as people affected by melanoma to teach folks how to exist in natural sunlight safely.

And now the flip side.  I believe that spray tanning is still a safer alternative to UV tanning.  Throughout the report, the phrase “potential risk” was used and any conclusion was subjective at best.  So far, all such tests on DHA (the tanning kind, not the edible kind) have been performed on lab animals and not on humans.  Most likely, it’ll be found that the chemical does indeed have health risks.  But I won’t draw conclusions until a comparison study is performed between spray versus UV tanning.  (I bet that the UV tans will be found to be exponentially more dangerous).  I won’t promote spray tanning individually, but I still have a clear conscience about stated that it’s a safer alternative (in moderation only) over UV tanning. 

My greatest focus will be on no tanning at all…of any kind.  Embrace your natural self!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Mr. BITNP Goes to Raleigh

Me, Timna and Anne
On June 13, I was fortunate to join with Anne Bowman (AIM at Melanoma), Carol Taylor (Melanoma Prayer Center), and Timna Understein (Respects the Rays) to assist the North Carolina Dermatology Association (NCDA) with a day of amateur lobbying at the NC Legislative Building.  Our goal was to lobby in support of prohibiting minors from using tanning facilities and remind folks in the building  that the dermatologists were giving free skin screenings down the hallway.  I would give a play-by-play of the morning, but that would take days to recall…so much happened in such a short time, it felt like a week.  So I’ll simply share a few observations and thoughts of the day:

  • First of all, the three aforementioned ladies were incredible.  I loved meeting folks that I’ve “met” on Facebook…this being my second meeting with Carol.  I think the group gelled very well as if we had been friends for years.  Each person had their own personality which meshed well to form a great group personality.  I look forward to seeing and working with each of these folks again in the future.
  • The bill to ban tanning for minors has yet to be officially introduced.  The NC Legislators have “short” and “long” sessions…this year being a short session.  (I suspect it has something to do with having time to prepare for re-election campaigns).  The actual bill is to be introduced next year…our experience this past Wednesday was a dry-run rehersal for next year.  We developed some great ideas for improvements next year.
  • It’s been said to “Speak softly and carry a big stick.”  But I believe the philosophy of all the lobbyists in the building was “Speak quickly and carry a smart phone.”  These guys must have had a self-guiding app on their phone because I’m not sure I saw one look up from the screen even while they were negotiating the maze-like hallways.
  • There is a lot of politicking in politics.  So many people had their own agendas and causes to push…there were literally lines at some of the representatives’ offices.  But the open door policy was quite interesting to see.  No real “appointments” were noted…just a quick “is the Senator in?” inquiry before talking.
  • That “talking” was pretty much limited to a hand shake, a verbal introduction, and a quick, “we’re here to represent the melanoma community and hope you’ll consider supporting a bill to ban tans in 2013…plus please take advantage of the free skin screening down the hall.”
  • I found that most of the legislators were out in session or in meetings…so I approached all of the assistants.  I know they’re the ones that run the day-to-day workings…and most were quite receptive and had already arranged to get their screening.  I’m sure they ended up reminding their specific legislator when they returned to the office.
  • The group, individually or together, spoke with one of the most conservative legislators, and to one of the most liberal.  Both stated that they’d support a tanning ban bill.  That has to bode well for chances of passage next year.
  • Politicians have to walk a fine line…and in this day and age, unemployment is a hot topic.  So lobbying to shut down an industry, no matter how sleazy, is a tricky stance.  This is why the proposed ban would be for minors only.  Also, the flyers we handed out stated that banning the beds would not be bad for business as teens would migrate their dollars to safer tanning alternatives such as spray tanning.  Offering to allow tanning salons to “remain lucrative” didn’t set well with all of us…but I suppose it is all part of the political process.  (Unfortunately, the ABC News report on the dangers of spray tanning came out the same morning as we were pitching its use.  Oops.  More on that in my next blog.) 
  • Politics can challenge your own beliefs.  I met with several representatives, but a couple of them are guys I would never vote for due to our differing opinions.  However, they each support a tanning ban.  Again, the bill won’t be introduced until next session, after the election.  So, do I compromise my general political philosophies and vote to keep these guaranteed “yes” votes in, or do I vote for their opponents, thus risking losing that supporting vote?  It’s a dilemma and I don’t envy the politicians one bit for having to make similar decisions all day.

The day was exciting, eye-opening, and informative.  But most importantly, I learned that I can’t wait to work with each of these ladies again!  It was a true pleasure and honor.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tanning Myths and Facts

I will be attending an event at the NC State Legislature Building on June 13.  This event will support efforts by the North Carolina Dermatology Association to help spread the word about tanning beds.  I’m sure there will be an itinerary and I’ll stick with any discussions on their agenda.  Still, I hope to steer some legislators towards this blog and have them read some thoughts and facts I’ve gathered for their information and knowledge.

So Mr. /Ms. Legislator, I present to you several myths and facts below regarding indoor tanning.  Please read, learn, and support a tanning ban for minors in North Carolina.

Myth:  Indoor Tanning Doesn't Cause Melanoma

Fact:  The term “causes” implies that if you tan, you WILL get cancer. This is wrong, however the fact remains that exposure to indoor tanning increases the risk of developing melanoma.  A review of 19 separate published studies showed that use of tanning beds boosted the risk of melanoma by 75%.

Myth: You Need the UV Rays to Get Enough Vitamin D

Fact:  No one disputes that sunlight produces vitamin D which improves bone health and possibly heart health and resistance to breast cancer.  However, most medical professionals suggest receiving your Vitamin D intake through supplements and Vitamin D fortified food such as milk, cereal, and yogurt as well as from salmon and tuna.

Myth: Tanning beds are a safe way to tan

Fact:  There is no safe way to tan.  Tanning, whether indoor or outdoor, is evidence of damaged skin at the inner, epidermal region.     

Myth: Tanning beds emit UVA rays which do not burn the skin the way UVB rays will.  Therefore, tanning beds are safer than the sun which emits both UVA and UVB rays.

Fact:  While UVB rays are the main contributor to sunburns, the World Health Organization has determined that UVA rays are equally dangerous and perhaps even more likely to lead to melanoma.

Myth: Tanning beds emulate the natural sun.  The sun isn’t bad for you!

Fact: No one will deny that the sun is essential for life and generally good for you.  But the UV rays within the sun are dangerous.  Tanning beds are concentrated UV rays which have been measured to emit 12X the amount of UV radiation as the outdoor sunshine!

Myth: Getting a base tan from indoor tanning protects your skin.

Fact:  While a base tan offers some minimal protection, any change in skin color, including the base tan itself, is the body’s natural defense against too much UV radiation.  In short, ANY tan is visible evidence that the skin is already damaged.

Myth: Sunless tanning sprays offer protection from the sun.

Fact:  While spray tans are certainly the preferred method of getting that “summer glow,” the sprays offer absolutely no protection against UV rays.  These self-tanners merely color the dead skin cells on the skin’s outer most layer.  Those who spray tan still need to apply sunscreen when outdoors.

Myth:  Tanning beds are the best way to treat various ailments, such as acne and psoriasis.

Fact:  While some practitioners might suggest such treatment, the vast majority of medical professionals will state that the risks of tanning beds far outweigh any such benefits.  For those people who are convinced otherwise, I would propose a law that states any “prescribed” treatments be administered by a licensed radiologist in a controlled medical facility, and not within a tanning booth run by employees working for the summer.

Myth:  Current laws requiring parental consent are effective, thus no further restrictions are needed.

Fact:  There have been reports, including one by the NBC Today Show, where under-aged women were freely allowed to use the tanning facilities despite the local or state laws requiring parental consent.  Also, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce released a report that revealed tanning salons were routinely not providing proper information to teens, including inaccuracies about health risks, in an effort to gain business.  Loose legislation simply will not work.  Tougher laws are necessary to protect our children.

Myth:  Government should not impose age restrictions.

Fact:  If that were the case, we’d be selling alcohol and cigarettes to minors, as well as allowing children to drive cars and vote.  Age limits already exist, and for good reason.  In the case of alcohol and tobacco, such limits are meant to protect the children.  For voting and driving, the limits may be imposed because children simply do not have the intellectual maturity to make the decisions involved with each.  Kids just don’t realize the dangers of tanning and they will continue to use tanning beds despite any potential dangers in their future.  Like with alcohol and tobacco, the government has a responsibility to help protect our children!  The State of California and the City of Chicago have already taken such responsibility!

Myth:  If tanning restrictions are imposed, many tanning salons will close, putting people out of work.

Fact:  When the drinking age was raised from 18 to 21, there was much discussion on the effects towards alcohol sales and bar patronage.  Naturally, business did fall off, but it did not disappear.  Likewise, despite the wishes of those who oppose tanning, the tanning industry will not disappear entirely.  However, safe spray tanning has also grown in popularity.  If government is afraid of increased unemployment, I would suggest a subsidy program for tanning salons to trade in their tanning booths and beds for spraying equipment and training.  This would help keep the children safe from tanning and promote ongoing business.

The studies and facts from which the above claims are made include legitimate sources such as the American Cancer Society, the American Academy of Dermatology, the FDA, and the World Health Organization.   The latter has classified ultraviolet radiation as a carcinogenic, in the same category as plutonium and uranium.

In summary, there is no such thing as a safe tan.  But the fact remains that many teenagers (and adults) consider being tan a fashionable necessity.  It’s time to protect these children and impose an indoor tanning ban on minors.  Once these children grow up to adulthood, they can make their own choices…and hopefully, the healthier choice.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Pink Envy...or Inspiration?

Despite May, 2012 being an incredible time for Melanoma Awareness, there was still a familiar pink tint throughout the month.  One of the more popular local television stations in Raleigh was a media sponsor for this year’s local Susan G. Komen Race for Cure held on June 9.  As a result, WRAL-TV would air promos between nearly every show in an effort to increase participation.  Many of you may recall that the Susan G. Komen group had a little controversy a few months ago, so the television station had its work cut out.  It was reported after the event (in a near full-page article in the paper) that the numbers were significantly down to “only” 16,000 participants.

Sixteen thousand people…in one race/walk…in one city!  Wow!

Many folks in the melanoma community are a little envious of the pink campaign.  While those who have been affected by melanoma struggle to get respect (it’s not “just skin cancer!”), awareness builds and funds pour into breast cancer research.  None of us want to take any of this away at all…cancer sucks, no matter the color.  But sometimes we in the melanoma world wish we’d get a little more recognition and notice.

But rather then stew in jealousy over Komen’s success, I suggest we gain inspiration.  This juggernaut of fund-raising started when Susan died of breast cancer in 1980 at the age of 36.  Little sister Nancy (Goodman Brinker) “believed that Susan’s outcome might have been better if patients knew more about cancer and its treatments.”  Sound familiar?

Of course, back in 1980, there was no internet…there was no blogging…there were no websites.  Nancy Brinker hit the streets and sought out funding, donations and built the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation by 1982 the hard way.

Today, it’s easier to get the word out.  We do have the internet.  We do have Facebook, Twitter and other means of social interaction.  And we have our own versions of Nancy Brinker, developing ways to raise money and awareness in the name of a loved one or as part of their own battle with melanoma.  Great things are happening with regard to melanoma awareness and it needs to continue.

The next time you see pink…well, feel free to be a little envious (I know I will).  But don’t be jealous.  Instead…be inspired.  You may have serious disagreements with the politics or advertising philosophies of the foundation, but you can’t help but wish that one day, we’d have 16,000 people walking side-by-side in the fight against melanoma.  Maybe it takes not one large organization, but a band of small forces like us to accomplish the same goals.

We don’t need to make black the new pink…we simply need to make black as effective as pink.

(Note, to WRAL's credit, they aired many features during Melanoma Awareness Month, even a spot on tanning as recently as last week, so kudos to them. Now if only we could get them to sponsor an AIM Walk...)

Friday, June 1, 2012

A Month I Never Expected

As Skin Cancer and Melanoma Awareness Month approached, I anticipated increased traffic on Facebook, some token under-informed skin cancer stories on local TV news, and an extra article or two in the paper about using sunscreen.  Honestly, that’s about all I recall from previous years (admittedly being only “aware” just last year).  Wow, did this month turn out different and better than expected!  Here are just a few highlights:

·       The most unlikely of people pushed Melanoma Awareness Month from the Health Page to the Front Page…a tanner!  Patricia Krentcil, aka “Tan Mom,” became the talk of the water cooler…not because of the accusations that she took her daughter into a tanning booth, but because of her uber-tanning appearance.  To quote the spoof on Saturday Night Live, she “looks like a baseball glove.”  Yes, Tan Mom created discussions on the safety of tanning beds across the country and on every media venue imaginable.  Nearly every story on TV or in the paper about Ms. Krentcil also had the subtext that “this is Melanoma Awareness Month.”  Thank you Tan Mom for being our anti-hero!

·       Because of the interest in Tan Mom, several melanoma warriors were interviewed in both print and television.  Some of these are posted on a new website called “Faces Of Melanoma.”  Check under “Making a Difference.”  Also, Chelsea Price not only appeared via Skype on the Dr. Drew show, Headlines News did an entire piece on her and her blog.  Great, great stuff!

·       Many folks participated in several walks and events across the country.  I was unable to attend any myself, but am anxiously awaiting the AIM for Melanoma walk in Charlotte, NC in November.  (Feel free to sponsor me by clicking the link in the upper left of this blog page).

·       NBC’s Today Show did a piece on tanning beds which showcased an advocate for the tanning industry.  While the NBC medical expert slammed the tanning biz, the opposing gentleman’s smarminess left a bad taste.  And all this was reported as a model fried in a tanning bed in the background!  So many people were angered by the Today Show…but they redeemed themselves with an excellent expose on how tanning salons are not following the New Jersey law regarding parental consent for minors.  Half of the salons investigated showed that they let in 15 year old girls with no problem.  This pretty much confirmed the sleazy or uninformed nature of the tanning industry as reported a couple months earlier in a Senate Report.

·       Coach Bill Cowher announced his involvement with a new campaign called Melanoma Exposed.  What many people may not realize is that men are at a higher risk for developing melanoma than women.  Approximately 5,800 men die annually compared to 3,000 women.  This is not to say we need to stop warning young women against tanning…but Coach’s involvement may help get stubborn men to the dermatologist earlier to have their skin checked.

·       Sadly, at the statistical rate of one person dying of melanoma each hour, we probably lost over 700 warriors to melanoma this month.  This hit close to home as a couple of folks who have “Liked” my Facebook page and commented on this blog passed away this month.  They will be missed.

·       And yet miracles happen as so many of us stayed glued to the Facebook as Steve Hock went under the knife for his grueling 8 hour surgery to have tumors removed from his brain.  There was a real risk that he could have come out in a vegetative state…but latest photos shows him being alert and miraculously well.  His success may not ease the pain of those lost, but it certainly offers hope to those still fighting.

·       On a somewhat selfish note, my blog post “RealPeople of Melanoma” surpassed the 1,800 page view mark this month.   That is six times as many hits as my next most-read post.  Chelsea told me that a producer at CNN found that post linked from her blog…and the producer loved it.  But my thrill in the readership is not about the numbers at all…it’s about knowing that the word is getting out there.  It seems to get read by a few people every day despite having been written back in January.  Don’t be surprised if a Part 2 comes out in the next few months.

·       Finally, the word IS getting out.  The one “enemy” to our cause is the tanning industry.  It’s evident that our grassroots effort is starting to pay off because those who support tanning beds are starting to leave comments in not only my blog, but others’.  If someone or something is not a threat, you ignore it.  Well, we’re no longer being ignored, which means we must be a threat to the industry.  This is exciting to know!

We had an incredible month!  So many people are now aware…and this is just the beginning!