May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month
May is skin cancer awareness month, and this is something we take very seriously. As busy moms living here on the CT Shoreline we know we can never be too careful, especially as the summer months and days at the beach are rapidly approaching!
This is why we’re thrilled to introduce to you, the Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut! We had an opportunity to ask them a few questions to get to know them better, and get some solid advice on what we can do to practice “safe skin”.
Please tell us a little bit about your practice, and your plan for Skin Cancer Awareness Month.
Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut is a comprehensive dermatology practice with 8 locations throughout CT. We are a one-stop destination for the medical care of your entire family’s skin, hair and nails (yes Dermatologists cover all 3!). We happily see patients of all ages. We focus on medical dermatology (not cosmetic) and pride ourselves of being on the pulse of the latest scientific advances, including using biologic.
Board certified dermatologist Mohsin Malik, M.D. leads the New London location. In recognition of Skin Cancer Awareness Month (May), Dr. Malik and his staff will be offering FREE skin cancer screenings for new patients on Wednesday, May 22 from 4-7pm. Rates of skin cancer are on the rise right here in CT and Dr. Malik is passionate about raising awareness and promoting early detection and treatment here in Southeastern Connecticut.
As a father of two young boys, Dr. Malik knows how important it is to prepare ahead for a fun and safe summer, because research shows that sun exposure during childhood can play a significant role in forming skin cancer later in life.
Can you tell us some ways that we can have a safe summer? We have so many products in our cabinets, we don’t even know where to start!
First, audit your sunscreen inventory and discard anything that is expired. Expired sunscreen is less effective. While SPF is SPF, I’d also encourage you to toss any aerosol sunscreens…I’m not a fan as it is difficult to ensure you have applied enough, especially if applying outdoors in the wind. We also don’t know what happens if you inhale an aerosol sunscreen. If you’re looking for a convenient and less messy sunscreen then I recommend trying a sunscreen stick. This year I’m using the Neutrogena SPF 60+ Baby Mineral Sunscreen Stick on our infant and toddler.
Next, before you stock up for summer 2019, it’s important to understand the difference between Chemical and Physical blockers so you can shop and use them correctly.
-Chemical sunscreens absorb into the skin where they absorb UV rays, convert the rays into heat, and release them from the body. The active ingredients in chemical sunscreens include avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone (note: oxybenzone should not be used during pregnancy). For chemical sunscreens to work they need to be applied directly onto clean skin so they can be absorbed and do their job.
-On the other hand, physical sunscreens sit on top of the skin and create a physical barrier that reflects the sun’s rays. The minerals titanium dioxide and zinc oxide are the main active ingredients in physical sunscreens. If you’re using a physical sunscreen it needs to be the last thing you apply in your skincare routine for it to work.
This is so interesting! What do you suggest for the kids?
For your kids…the general rule is that sunscreen shouldn’t be used on a baby under 6 months old. This is because the infant’s skin has a thinner outermost layer offering less protection from outside irritants, including the chemicals in sunscreen. However, if sun exposure for an infant can’t be avoided, then I recommend keeping the baby in the shade, avoiding the strong mid-day sun between 10am and 2pm (this also helps prevent baby from overheating!), and sun protective clothing and hats with a UPF 50+ rating. My wife always keeps a sun protective blanket made by a local CT company Salt n’ Rays in the stroller for impromptu outings. Once infants are older than 6 months you may add a zinc- and/or titanium-based sunscreen (Blue Lizard is a fan favorite).
Overall kids’ skin is more sensitive than ours, so using a broad-spectrum physical sunscreen with at least SPF 30 is your safest bet. Look for a formula with an active ingredient list that includes only titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. UPF Clothing also provides amazing protection and convenience when trying to reapply squirmy kids – I like the brand Coolibar, it’s what my own boys wear all summer. UPF Clothing does “expire” though – so if you’re looking at a thinned out, faded hand-me-down, chances are it isn’t going to provide the same level of protection it did the first go around.
For babies and kids do not use a sunscreen that contains oxybenzone (which may cause hormonal effects) and stay away from fragrances, dyes and PABA, which are all common skin irritants, especially on sensitive skin of kids.
Such great info, thank you! So what about for moms?
Now on to mom! For women who often use other skincare products and/or makeup with their SPF it is very important to use your physical or chemical blocker in the correct product order for it to work. Again, Physical = last thing on your face, while Chemical = first thing on your face. Makeup with SPF protection is a nice benefit, but you should not count on it as your sole sun protection. Mineral based brushes are great for touchups on the go and for areas like the ears and hair part. Supergoop makes a great brush and has a new setting spray that functions similarly. A wide-brimmed hat and UPF swim shirt are great additions for extra protection and coverage of hard to reach areas like the back of the neck and shoulders. Also, don’t forget the legs: the backs of the legs are the most common place to find a melanoma – the deadliest kind of skin cancer – on women.
Overall, sunscreen effectiveness depends on appropriate use and application. Most people apply half to one-quarter of the amount of sunscreen they are supposed to in order to get the level of protection on the label, which means if you’re applying an SPF 30 chances are that you are only getting protection of an SPF 15. A study was done where people were given SPF 100 and told to apply as they normally would. When the actual protection was measured the study showed that on average people only got an effective SPF 28! It’s important to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure. Most adults need about 1 ounce — or enough to fill a shot glass — to fully cover their body. Rub the sunscreen thoroughly into your skin and be sure to reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming.
Wow! These are all excellent tips and extremely helpful! Now that we know how to prevent the sun damage and protect our kiddos, can you give us some hints on how to check our bodies for damage already done?
Yes! Here are some self-screening tips for skin cancer…
Important to note, skin cancer rates are on the rise! 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer before the age of 70 and the rates of melanoma are on the rise. Early detection makes effective treatment very possible, so having a regular skin cancer screening by a board-certified dermatologist is important. This is especially important for women who have used tanning beds: according to the American Academy of Dermatology, using indoor tanning beds before age 35 can increase the risk of melanoma by 59 percent and that risk rises with each use.
When we examine the skin we also take photos, measurements and notes about spots we want to watch. This helps us track change, which is one of the warning signs of a cancerous lesion.
In between your skin exams I encourage patients to take a look over their skin monthly, following the ABCDEs of skin cancer detection. Having any single or combination of these characteristics does not automatically mean it is cancerous, but it means you should see your board certified dermatologist right away to have it examined.
A – Asymmetry: If you draw a line through this mole, do the two halves match? If not, then it is asymmetrical.
B – Border: If the border is uneven that is a warning sign.
C – Color: Most benign moles are all one color — often a single shade of brown. Having a variety of colors is another warning signal.
D – Diameter: Melanomas usually are larger in diameter than the eraser on your pencil tip (¼ inch or 6mm), but they may sometimes be smaller when first detected.
E – Evolving: Any change — in size, shape, color, elevation, or another trait, or any new symptom such as bleeding, itching or crusting — points to danger.
This is such great information, thank you! We cannot wait to see you at your office in New London on May 22nd!
May event information for skin screenings
- Who: Adults & Children, new patients only
- When: Wednesday, May 22, 2019 from 4-7pm
- Where: 6 Shaws Cove, Suite 204, New London, CT 06320
**Appointments are Required: Call the office at 860-440-3744 to reserve an exam time**
How do we make an appointment to be seen at your office
Please give us a call at 860.440.3744
Thank you for such useful and helpful information, Dr. Malik!