As residents of Louisiana, we are no strangers to the summer's blistering sun. I use the word blistering in reference to the heat, but blistering can also be used to describe certain physical symptoms of damage done to the skin that can ultimately lead to cancer.
Just recently, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden published his story in The New York Times about the rehabilitation he endured and subsequent surgeries he received after learning about a tumor caused by years of adolescent neglect in regards to skin protection.
Layden discovered the tumor in 2009, when he first noticed the skin on his nose to be peeling. This effect later turned more inconvenient, and finally, a small knot was formed under the skin of the lower left side of his nose. This knot, of course, was a basal cell carcinoma tumor (most common form found in the skin).
After follow up visits and procedures with his dermatologist, Layden was informed he would need to undergo Mohs Surgery, where a physician removes sections of cancerous tissue over a period of time. Layden notes that although his dermatologist boasted of an 80 percent rate of completion after the first stage, the procedure can still leave one disfigured (especially when deeper portions of skin are needed if cancer is present).
All in all, Layden's surgery would require six stages, so it became clear that cosmetic surgery was going to be in serious consideration during rehabilitation. Indeed, he would seek a New York plastic surgeon to remove tissue from his forehead to make his new nose. Layden's surgeon noted him to be in "the upper five percent of skin care damage."
This, of course, could have been potentially avoided had he taken more precaution with protecting his skin — not an assumption, Layden remarks this himself, saying much of the damage was caused from severe sunburns as a youth, because of finding an inconvenience with sunscreen.
How many of you have said this? Many, if we're honest. Sunscreen, in the past, may have been avoided because of its pasty, greasy feeling it left on the skin, but with so many advances in sun protection these days (like spray on sunscreen), there is no excuse. I bring this up now because summer is fast approaching, and parents should be aware that what the sun does to our skin during our youth directly translates how it will age, as we get older.
And just because you purchase a sunscreen with a high SPF (sunscreen protection factor), it may not afford you the proper protection you are seeking. According to Robert Koppel, a dermatologist in private practice in Metairie, "SPF only measures the strength of the sunscreen in preventing sunburn from UV (ultraviolet) B rays. SPF does not indicate how well a sunscreen blocks UVA rays. Both UVA and UVB are known causes of skin cancer. The difference is sunburns primarily come from UVB while wrinkles mainly come from UVA, as it penetrates the skin much more deeply."
When purchasing a sunscreen, the words "broad spectrum" can give you more peace of mind. "Broad spectrum on the label means the sunscreen should protect your skin from both UVA and UVB. Zinc oxide is an important ingredient found in some sunscreens that effectively provides broad spectrum skin protection," Koppel said. Also look for avobenzone, which is a chemical that is also found in broad spectrum sunscreens.
The following recommendations are to be taken into consideration when avoiding skin damage from the sun:
- Stay covered. If the sun is unbearable, wear a hat, sunglasses, and dark or bright colors (avoiding lighter colors).
- Look for changes in your skin. If you are not getting a yearly skin exam from a dermatologist consider doing so. Report any unusual changes to your skin as soon as they are noticed.
- Keep babies younger than six months out of direct sun exposure and keep older children inside between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when the sun exposure is most intense.
- Make sure your medications are not making you photosensitive (sensitive to UV rays). If they are, take extra skin precaution when going outdoors.
- Wear sunscreen. That seems like a given, right? If so, then make sure you're abiding by what seems "given." Use a broad spectrum SPF 15 or higher.
- Don't assume you are in the clear, if the sun is not out, as UV rays can penetrate cloud cover.
Layden recalls that his life changed when he looked in the mirror and saw a hole where his nose used to be. He regrets not taking skin cancer more seriously in his youth, and says not a day goes by post-surgery, where he doesn't think about it.
Don't let it get to that point. Don't wake up one day in regret. Take action now, and if you suspect you've damaged your skin in the past, learn to take care of your skin in the present. Consult a dermatologist.
Consistently and frequently check your skin for abnormalities or questionable coloration, and know that you should be doing this for the rest of your life. Everyone should, sun damaged skin, or not.