The month of May is exciting for many reasons, but there’s one thing that can’t get here soon enough: Memorial Day! It’s a day to celebrate the men and women who have served and continue to serve our great country, and for that, we are truly thankful! It’s also the unofficial start to S U M M E R and personally, we couldn’t be more excited to welcome this season. For most of us, Summer means lots of time spent outdoors in the sunshine, and since May is Melanoma Skin Cancer Awareness month, it’s the perfect opportunity to remind us all of how important sun protection is! To help highlight its importance and condense the overwhelming amount of information out there, we reached out to two moms in our local community to share what they have experienced, and to give us some recommendations on protecting ourselves and our kids!
We're thrilled to have fellow mom, Elizabeth Johnson, share her personal experience with skin cancer and what she’s learned along the way. A big part of Elizabeth’s journey has been educating herself, and others, through conversations like the one she had with Kelly Johnston, a Physician Assistant at Levy Dermatology here in Jackson, Tennessee. Kelly has several years of experience in dermatology, and as a mother herself, she understands the importance of protecting our children's skin, as well as our own. Enjoy!
Hi! I'm Elizabeth Johnson, and I'm so flattered that my friends at TYC asked me to share my personal experience. Quick disclaimer: I’m Scottish and like to say that I have no business living in the south where it gets so hot you can't breathe unless you're nearly naked! I feel like somewhere along the line, my ancestors got it all wrong and I need to live somewhere dark, rainy and cold, so I can avoid the sun at all costs – my skin just can’t handle it! But that sounds super depressing, so I’d rather just advocate for protection and prevention. I can’t say I’m well-versed in all things skin care (I’m 34 and don't even have my own "regimen"…it's time!), but what I do know, is how incredibly important it is to protect ourselves from the sun.
Growing up, I remember getting really bad sunburns - so bad that my mom would make me wear a t-shirt in the pool and the ocean (mortifying!). I absolutely hated it but remember loving that glow after the sunburn settled down. That became my motto: just get burned and it will turn into a beautiful golden glow for the rest of summer. That was all lovely (albeit naive), until I was 25 and had my first mole removed which came back as pre-cancerous. Shortly after, I had yet another mole removed…same result. Over time, I began limiting my time in the sun and scheduled dermatology check-ups regularly. Fast forward to a few years ago, and I noticed a tiny, clear bump on my forehead that I had not seen before. I went to have it checked and was told to watch it – after all, it really didn’t look that suspicious – but it was on my face, and a daily reminder that it could be something scary. So, I ultimately decided to have it removed, and sure enough, it came back as basal cell carcinoma. The next thing I knew, I had what looked like a cigarette burn on my forehead that took over a year to become less noticeable. Not long after, my doctor found another one on my back – came back as the same. After that, a shiny spot on my chest was biopsied, which came back as pre-squamous cell carcinoma. In trying to process all of this, I realized just how many people I knew personally who had experiences with skin cancer. My dad, for example, had always battled similar issues, like having what seemed like half of his nose shaved off because of squamous cell carcinoma. Then, there’s the experiences of a few close friends: one recently found melanoma on her leg shortly after having a baby, another friend had a spot on the bottom of her foot (yes, you read that right!), and yet another friend whose mother passed away from it. Notice a pattern? I detail all of this out because I can't stress enough just how important it is to stay on top of it. It's just TOO common! And it’s also worth noting that although I’m fair skinned and more susceptible, it doesn’t matter your ancestry – everyone carries a risk. I still get nervous looking at all of my freckles and spots, but I do the best I can to get anything and everything checked out, even if it might look like nothing. I advocate for myself, but also for my daughter - I don't want her dealing with the same issues (poor thing is a redhead!), so it's important to me that I know how to protect her as well.
SO! What exactly can we do to protect ourselves and our kids, while still enjoying the sun? This is exactly what I asked Kelly! I heard her discuss all things skin care at an event not too long ago, so I decided to reach out with a few questions…
- Tell us about your experience in dermatology! What do you do in your job? I’ve worked in dermatology for over five years as a Physician Assistant. I love our dermatologist-PA team approach to caring for our patients. I see and treat various skin conditions in ages 0-100! We treat common skin issues like acne, warts, eczema, psoriasis, and more. One of the most common things we do daily is skin exams to evaluate for suspicious lesions that could be skin cancer. It’s my favorite part of the job!
- What is your #1 tip for skin protection? The best thing for skin protection is using sunscreen! Most importantly, always remember to reapply. That’s the biggest thing we forget!
- Do you prefer spray or lotion sunscreens? Why? I prefer to use lotion sunscreen as a base layer 30 minutes prior to sun exposure. I think it gives better protection initially than spray. If you need to reapply, spray is a good option! With spray, it’s important to make sure that you still rub the spray into your skin after applying. For my family, it’s much easier to chase the kids with a spray bottle once they’re playing, but we make sure to put lotion on before we go outside.
- What kind of sunscreen is best for kiddos? For my kids, I use lotion sunscreen with zinc oxide or titanium dioxide as the main ingredients. These are referred to as physical sunscreens. We always have a sunscreen stick in our beach bag, by the pool, in the car... we keep it everywhere! Sticks make it easy to get my kids covered quickly and reapplying is a breeze.
- Is it true that anything beyond SPF30 is just marketing? Anything above 30 is reasonable.
- What all should we look for in a good sunscreen? Make sure your SPF is above 30 with broad-spectrum coverage, meaning that it will block both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are associated with aging and UVB rays are responsible for burning the skin. I like the physical sunscreens that block and reflect the sun’s rays with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide. Chemical sunscreens have ingredients that will absorb the sun’s rays. Spray sunscreens are commonly chemical sunscreens.
- Do the UPF50 rashguards and swimsuits truly help to protect us? Yes! Sun-protective clothing is a great addition to any sun protection regimen. Look for protection ratings not just in swimwear, but clothing and hats, too! However, it should not be your only form of protection. Make sure you still use sunscreen underneath! I love using sun protective clothing for my kids! It gives me some extra reassurance when they wear rashguards, especially when I cannot get them to sit still long enough to reapply their sunscreen!
- Any other advice as far as staying on top of our skin, and what to look for (moles changing, etc.)? Be familiar with your skin! Do a self-skin exam monthly. The ABCDEs of moles is a good rule of thumb for monitoring. A is for asymmetry of a lesion meaning that, if halved, the halves do not match. B is for irregular borders meaning the mole is not perfectly round. C is for color that could be very dark or showing multiple colors. D is for diameter generally over the size of a pencil eraser. E is for evolving which could mean color changes or the development symptoms such as bleeding or itching. If you have a mole that shows any of these signs, it’s always best to have it examined and possibly biopsied. Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are two other types of skin cancer we see commonly. If you ever have a lesion that is changing, bleeding or a sore that will not heal, have it checked out! Use reputable websites to research sun protection and skin cancer such as www.aad.org or www.skincancer.org.
- For fun... what's your best anti-aging tip for all of us mamas out there?! One of the best anti-aging tips is to use a sunscreen daily! It should be part of your morning skin care regimen. I also love adding Vitamin C in the morning for an extra level of protection. It also helps with brightening the skin that’s been dulled by sun exposure. I use a retinoid every night to help reverse sun damage and help my overall complexion. Oh, and Botox!
- If you could leave us with one message in regards to Melanoma Awareness month, what would it be? Melanoma does not care about your age, your gender, or your skin color. It can even be found in areas that do not receive much sun exposure. Be proactive about monitoring your skin for changes. Also, it’s never too late to start protecting your skin. Preach it to your kids, too! They will thank you one day. Time outdoors is the best, especially in our current situation. Be safe with sun protection!
Elizabeth Johnson Kelly Johnston
We want to thank both Elizabeth and Kelly for sharing their experiences and educating us on all things sun protection and prevention! Most importantly, we hope you learned something new, or picked up some new tips for summer. We are absolutely THRILLED to now offer Supergoop! Sun care products – check out the full line here. As always, if you have any questions, concerns, or comments, let us know! We always love hearing from you.
If you’d like to schedule an appointment with Kelly to discuss any skincare concerns, call Levy Dermatology at 901-295-0203.