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I'm a skin care professional with skin cancer — here's what I learned

Not knowing how many childhood sunburns I'd had was an early warning sign of skin cancer

Growing up in Florida probably wasn't the best thing for my fair skin. Having the insane desire to be tan like my friends? Definitely not the best thing!

Daily slathering of baby oil with iodine was a ritual. When able, I'd splurge on Hawaiian Tropic Dark Tanning Oil or — the ultimate — Bain de Soleil Orange Gelée!

I tried to be anything besides pasty white, but the only other color my skin became was red — as in "burned-to-a-crisp" red. For years, my mother grew aloe in the yard and kept vast quantities of vinegar for the inevitable "vinegar-with-cool-water soak" in the tub.

My first real dermatology visit happened while living in the Midwest around 1987. When asked how many sunburns — with or without blistering — I had experienced, the staff thought I was joking when I answered, "Too many to remember." I could, however, narrow down sun poisoning — three, I think.

It was no surprise when I was diagnosed with actinic keratosis on my face, arms and legs.

According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, "Actinic keratosis, also known as a solar keratosis, is a scaly or crusty growth (lesion)...If you have actinic keratoses, it indicates that you have sustained sun damage and could develop any kind of skin cancer — not just squamous cell carcinoma."

Staying diligent with full-body examinations annually, my first basal cell carcinoma was removed by the same office about two years later. Since then, I've had multiple carcinomas removed, mostly via Mohs surgery. Mohs (named after Dr. Frederick Mohs) has a 98 percent or higher success rate for removing basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible.

Today, there is everything from clothing to gadgets to protect you from the sun. Yet, in a study published last year, evidence suggested that UV-seeking behavior (i.e. tanning) has addictive features — and is on the rise.

This shouldn't be shocking to anyone. Who doesn't turn their face up to the sun after days of rain or winter darkness? It feels good.

So, now what?

Here are some tips on how to protect yourself from the dangers of overexposure to UV light and — possibly — skin cancer.

  • Stay in the shade from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.. If you need to be outside during this time, cover up — this includes wearing a hat and sunglasses.
  • Avoid UV tanning beds. This is really a no brainer.
  • Apply no less than 2 tablespoons of broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) with an SPF of 15 or higher, 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or sweating. Just remember: two/two (two tablespoons every two hours).
  • Have a professional skin examination every year, or sooner, if you notice changes on or to your skin.
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