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Monday, July 3, 2017

Sun Exposure & Skin Cancer

I was standing at the counter of my dermatologist’s office, paying the bill for a mole check. Next to me was an older gentleman, probably around 65 or 70 years old. I assumed he had skin cancer because he was having Mohs’ Surgery, which removes malignant (cancerous) growths. After a few minutes, another gentleman walked through the door who I guessed had skin cancer too because half of his face was covered with a bandage, and he didn’t have an appropriate bulge for a nose.

These two gentlemen apparently knew each other, as they said, “Hey, Charlie,” and “Hi, Jack.” The image I got was of two golfing buddies who had spent their youth throughout adulthood out in the sun, unconscious of the disastrous effects of all that (probably unprotected) sun exposure. And now, years later, here they are as older men, both at the dermatologist’s office, and both having cancers removed from their faces. This is a sad story, but more disheartening because it is a common one.

“I never get in the sun.” Usually I hear this in my treatment room when I’m asking a client about sun exposure. Many times I’m asking because I see the signs of overexposure. True, I may see sun damage on a client’s skin long after he or she has stopped baking in the sun. But to say you never get in the sun is untrue.

Each and every time you walk outside you are getting sun. Sun exposure is accumulated from birth, so every hour, every minute, every second is adding up on your sun exposure report card. Why am I being so adamant about this seemingly picky detail? Because if you are not aware of how much sun you are getting, you are not going to be as careful as you need to be.

Hyperpigmentation is a big reason for being truthful about the incidental sun you’re getting, but may not be acknowledging. Hyperpigmentation comes in the form of dark spots on your face (or anywhere) that some people describe as blotchiness or uneven coloring.

As harmless as it may seem, even small amounts of sun exposure do add up. And that is why when a client is bewildered because dark spots have appeared on her face while she claims to “not have been in the sun,” I go into my speech saying the only place you are not getting sun is inside (four walls and a ceiling), away from a window.

Obviously hyperpigmentation is not the only problem sun exposure produces. The most obvious and sometimes fatal condition is, of course, skin cancer. You (we) must start now or continue to aggressively protect your face and body from sun exposure.

Even sunscreens are no match for the powerful rays of the sun. They are helpful but not foolproof, and are truly only meant to keep your skin from burning in the sun. Wear hats whenever possible, sunscreen always, and enjoy being out in the sun—protected. Don’t become one of these gentlemen at the being of this section. Protect your skin now and always!

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