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


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.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Melanoma Advocacy and the Return of Dr. Oz

The melanoma advocacy community has really spoken up lately.  In May, we did our part in increasing melanoma awareness in the general population.  I’ve never seen or read so many corporate-sponsored ads and Twitter chats regarding sun safety and skin cancer.  From L’Oreal Paris and Neutrogena to Glaxo Smith Kline and the Melanoma Research Foundation, it was difficult to venture into social media without seeing some hint of melanoma awareness advocacy.

After the dust settled, well, it didn’t.  Someone spotted a contest on Ellen DeGeneres’ website soliciting “funny sunburn photos.”  This is apparently an annual event on Ellen’s website, but this year we got wind of it and expressed our concern.  In some cases, outrage was expressed!  Melanoma warriors and survivors sent in photos of their scars and excisions rather than “funny” sunburns.  Emails were sent and Ellen’s Facebook page was flooded with concerned comments.  Within 48 hours (or less?) the request for sunburn photos disappeared.  Perhaps this was merely a coincidence or maybe it was a direct result of our efforts.  Whichever, it seems we were heard.

Before the last virtual champagne bottle was opened, another fly in the ointment appeared.  The infamous article from (and posted in other sites) was posted, offering alleged proof from a “major study” that sunscreen causes skin cancer.  The only problem was, the data was cherry-picked, extremely misleading, based on decade old research (long since obsolete) and just down-right full of incorrect information.  In this case, the melanoma advocates didn’t address the source, but chose to share opposing views via their Facebook pages, blogs and articles.  Not only did simple bloggers like me address the issue, major websites such as IFLScience, Snopes and the Melanoma Research Foundation issued statements including supporting evidence of the original articles falsehoods.  As this event is recent, I’m sure there will be even more comments in support of sun safety.

It finally looked like things were going to quiet down, but then I saw another small article today.  It’s not as blatantly anti-sunscreen as the RealFarmacy article or as blissfully ignorant as the Ellen contest, but in my mind, it can be just as damaging to efforts in melanoma and sun-safety advocacy.  And it originates from our old friend Dr. Oz.

Dr. Mehmet Oz may have been the first to create a true outcry from the melanoma advocacy community.  You may recall that back in 2012, Dr. Oz hosted Dr. Joe Mercola, an FDA-cited, tanning bed selling “medical expert” who talked about the benefits of UVB tanning beds (which again…he sells) and how mainstream media was skewing the true melanoma statistics and that the cancer was not indeed increasing in society.  At the end of the interview, Dr. Oz stated that he would “rethink” the use of tanning beds.  Immediately, Dr. Oz became melanoma advocacy public enemy number one!  In my view, Dr. Mercola was the true “evil” in our midst.  Dr. Oz offered up a statement after the show to convey his strong stance against tanning beds, so I personally gave him a little bit of a break.  A little.  (Here’s my assessment of the two doctors).

That” break” has finally dissolved with the airing of his television show on July 7. 

During this episode, Dr. Oz addressed summer health myths, such as “Are mosquitoes attracted to sweet blood?” “Do you have to wait 20 minutes after eating before swimming?,” “ and “Does peeing on a jellyfish sting reduce the pain?”  The first myth addressed was “Does a sunburn fade into a tan?”  When I saw this introduction, I hoped that this would be a great opportunity for the good doctor to share good sun safety tips.  I figured he’d address the myth, and then mention that both sun burns and sun tans are signs of skin damage…just as is stated by the Skin Cancer Foundation and so many other fine medical organizations.

As anticipated, he addressed the myth first.  In short, no, a sun burn does not fade into a tan.  He states, “When the sun hits your skin, it doesn’t just tan – it destroys.”  He and an audience member (who he leads creepily around by the hand) perform a demonstration on how UV rays kill skin cells and tans the few remaining cells.  (This demonstration involved shattering glass for which each wore safety glasses, and scolding hot water, for which no protective gear was worn.  I could swear the audience member may have been burned by spattering hot water).  After the demonstration, Dr. Oz explains the mechanics, and then states, “that’s why burning is never a good idea if you want to get a tan.”  At this point, the audience member smartly states, “Just stay out of the sun unless you’re wearing sunscreen.  End of story.”  Okay…this is the perfect segue for the doctor to explain the damaging effects of burning as well as tanning.

How does Dr. Oz respond?  He replies, “…or get it gently.”   He explains that best way to get a tan is in small doses over time so that the skin cells that survive the burn will have the opportunity to darken and new cells will grow back to further darken through gentle tanning.  He doesn’t discourage tanning at all!  In fact, he’s trying to convince his audience that there’s a safe way to tan.

Let me repeat .  He is explaining a safe way to get a tan.  He never mentions that no tan is a safe tan, and he completely ignores his audience member’s comment that it’s best to wear sunscreen!

This entire discussion takes place in less than two minutes and it doesn’t have the wide distribution of the aforementioned RealFarmacy article, so I doubt there will be the same outrage.  But what upsets me is that Dr. Oz has millions of viewers.  As I stated in my earlier blog in 2012, when Dr. Oz talks, many impressionable viewers who trust his medical expertise will listen.  They now potentially believe that there is a safe way to tan, and are ignorant of the true facts of which Dr. Oz had the perfect opportunity to share.

We melanoma awareness advocates have our victories, but we have new and challenging battles every day.  Don't give up...and don't stop believing.  One day, people will know because they need to know.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Big Bang Theory

Doctors at Johns Hopkins University noticed an interesting thing when examining teenagers with bangs.  The skin covered by the bangs was more pale and freckle-free while the rest of the face would exhibit more freckles.  Whiles freckles are not considered dangerous, they are a marker of increased sun exposure and potential skin damage.  Dubbed the “Big Bang Theory,” the experts at Johns Hopkins feel that this discovery would make a great teaching mechanism with which teenagers could relate, especially since teen idol Justin Bieber made the hairstyle popular.  Dr. Bernard Cohen was quoted (1) as saying that it’s “a gimmicky way to make them smile and engage them in conversation about sun protection.”

I appreciate the effort and intent of this teaching method, but I see two major flaws.  First, Justin Bieber no longer has bangs.
Secondly, from what I understand in my own kids’ conversations, one mention of Justin Bieber would send most teens running away screaming or, worse yet, result in the dreaded eye roll!

Perhaps a couple of the lads from One Direction would be a more accepted comparison.

Or, if I may, you might consider my own son.

Source: Proud Dad
My 12 year-old son has bangs, as you can see.  His favorite move is the head swoosh where he shakes his head to one side hard enough for his bangs to lie at just the right angle.  He’s perfected the move to the point that he seems to be in a habitual seizure of head shaking.  But hey, that’s how he rolls.

He likes his bangs and it makes me long for the day when I had bangs. <sigh>

Source: The 1980's
Whether the example is Justin Bieber, One Direction, or my son Nathan, any gimmick that works is worth it.  Any talk with teenagers about skin cancer usually falls on deaf ears.  Teens consider themselves invincible and seldom worry about getting skin cancer that could be years or decades down the road.  Many experts suggest focusing on wrinkles and sun spots to get the point of sun safety across.  After all, while teens want to act older, they also want to continue looking younger.  The threat of looking like some old dude can be serious motivation to take care of the skin.  And showing the difference between covered and uncovered skin, even on the same head, might help get the point across.

Goodness knows there are many talks we need to have with our teens.  (Oh boy do I know that!)  But don't forget to add one more talk...the one about sun safety and wearing sunscreen.  It's as important as any other talk you may have!