An Outdoor Enthusiast’s Guide to Playing It Sun Safe

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Johnie Gall || DirtbagDarling.com

Over the past few years, “fear” has become something of a challenge in my vocabulary. I went from someone who was scared to try surfing to someone who lives out of a revamped Dodge Sprinter van traveling the country in search of adventure. I’ve been fortunate enough to surf in Hawaii, to hike the highest peaks in Colorado, to snorkel with sharks in the Florida Keys, and to free rappel 200 feet from an arch in the middle of the Utah desert.

That’s not to say I’m fearless—there are many things that still frighten me about spending so much time in the outdoors. Bears. Falling. Broken limbs. Getting lost. Melanoma.

Yes, melanoma is a very real consideration of everything I do—though you might not believe me judging my criss-cross lattice of tan lines and premature wrinkles. Tan happens, especially when you spend the majority of your day outdoors (all the sunscreen in the world won’t change that), but so does melanoma, and I’ve chosen not to be so bold as to think it won’t happen to me. That’s why protecting my skin has become as much a part of my adventure prep as loading up my backpack and buying spare fuel.

Don’t get me wrong—I wasn’t always so cautious about skin cancer. Flashback to high school and you’d find me in a tanning booth prepping for prom and roasting at the beach with my friends. I thought hiking was synonymous with sports bras and fishing meant donning nothing more than a bikini. I actually shake my head thinking of the damage I did, but like they always say, hindsight is 20/20.

That lifestyle came to screeching halt when I took my first trip to the dermatologist in my late teens—I had a mole that looked suspicious, and my doctor wanted it off. After the biopsy, he told me it was benign. The danger was over, but the shock that something I’d always (foolishly) thought could never happen to me was actually happening was still there. It was a huge wake-up call, but I was lucky.

After my initial scare, I know that skin cancer prevention begins long before the threat becomes deadly and these days, when being outside is part of my job, I know that shielding my skin doesn’t have to mean sacrificing my active lifestyle—it just means getting creative. Here’s what I do to stay protected:

Sunscreen: Because I spend a lot of time in the water, I need a screen that won’t harm the coral reefs or marine animals when it washes off. I never leave the house without at least coating my hands, feet and face with SPF 30, and follow up with a water resistant one all over my body as soon as we start any activity.

UPF Clothing: How genius is sun protective clothing? It’s one of the first things I look for in my outdoor clothing—the good companies always make their sweat-wicking shirts and pants with UPF 15 or more. When in doubt, I slather on a layer of sunscreen under my clothing, too.

In the water: I rarely go swimming in the ocean without a rash guard—but long gone are the days when donning a quick-drying shirt meant a men’s style tee or neon monstrosity. I’m lucky enough to have a few friends who are at the helm of swimwear companies aimed at protecting skin, so surf leggings and rash guards are always in my bag or stashed in the trunk of my car.

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Giant. Hats: Here’s the great thing about wearing hats—you never have to worry about what your hair looks like. I can go without a shower for a week (something I often have to do living out of a van) and no one is any the wiser. I stock up on lifeguard-style straw hats at the flea market for summer and keep a collection of wool beanies, baseball caps and floppy felt hats in my closet for the colder months.

And if there’s one thing everyone should buy, it’s a white fishing shirt (yes, even if you hate fishing). They are light, airy, and dry like lightening. Dunk them in the water to cool off on boat rides, or wear them over your hiking clothes on hot days.

Most importantly, I’ve learned to find ways to stay out of the sun. My philosophy is this: being outside is part of my life. It always has been. It always will be. Tan will happen, but as long as I’m making every effort I can to stay safe, then I won’t have any regrets (and hopefully a healthy and happy skin suit!).

 

About the Author: Johnie Gall is the founder of DirtbagDarling.com, an online magazine for women that aims at inspiring and educating women of all skill levels on how to make the most of their outdoor experience. She’s a writer and a creative consultant who calls Pennsylvania home base (but you’re more likely to find her traveling the country in her Dodge Sprinter turned RV).

 

Ready. Set. May!

Rounding up all the highlights from the first week of Melanoma Awareness Month!

Melanoma Awareness Month is here and we’ve got tons in store this month.  Check out MRA’s new video “Progress for Patients” below.   If you like it, share it!  And don’t forget to celebrate Melanoma Monday on May 5th by engaging with MRA on social media!


USA Today offers up some tips to prevent melanoma just in time for May!

Scotland looks to curb tanning bed use as skin cancer rates continue to climb via BBC

Lea Michele Urges You to Wear Sunscreen in New Melanoma PSA (VIDEO)via WetPaint

May Day via SeattlePI

American Idol Live! tour to kick off June 24 via USA Today

Memorial Sloan Kettering’s Jedd Wolchok Describes Stunning Success of Cancer Immunotherapy in Scientific American Feature via Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

Melanoma News Round-Up, March 28

Take a look at this week’s melanoma news, which features new hope for patients through incredible research advances and compelling progress toward reducing the risk of melanoma through new sunscreens and stronger regulations on indoor tanning. 

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FDA review of new sunscreen ingredients has languished for years, frustrating advocates via Washington Post

Sunscreen delay: Stronger products need OK from FDA via FIOS1 News

New Hope for Melanoma Patients via ABC News

Drug Firms Focus on Advanced Melanoma via Wall Street Journal

Boy With Melanoma Raises Thousands Making Bracelets To Battle Cancer via CBS News

Clinicians emphasize risk of skin cancer in patients with skin of color via Dermatology Times

The Burning Truth campaign via the CDC

Melanoma survivor talks about bill that would ban teens from using tanning beds via WPXI

Inslee signs bill banning tanning beds for youth via King 5

Innovation Coming to America

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Though many people may not have realized it until reading today’s front page Washington Post article, sunscreen products sold in the US are not reflective of the latest innovations and science in understanding how best to protect people against harmful UV rays from the sun.  But it is true – the last time a new sunscreen product was approved for use in the US was in the 1990’s, not because scientists and companies haven’t been innovating, but because applications for approval of new products have been collecting dust on the shelf at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Hopefully, things are about to change for the better.  Last Thursday, a bipartisan, bicameral group of Members of Congress introduced the Sunscreen Innovation Act to jumpstart the sunscreen ingredient review process at the FDA so the American public can have access to the most innovative, effective sunscreen products.  If the bill moves forward and becomes law, Americans may finally be able to purchase sunscreen products which have been on store shelves for years in Europe, Asia, Central and South America.

For the past two decades, the FDA process for reviewing new sunscreen ingredients has stalled due to needlessly complex regulations.  The resulting backlog has ground the review process to a halt.

Shockingly, the most recent sunscreen ingredient to receive FDA approval dates back to the age of the dial-up modem.

The Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA) is committed to reducing the toll of melanoma, the deadliest of all skin cancers.  We routinely urge people to know their risks and take steps to reduce those risks, including avoiding exposure to UV radiation and the damage it causes to the skin.  We have worked to improve the safety and efficacy review of new sunscreen innovations that offer essential protection from hazardous ultraviolet (UV) rays.  As a leading member of the Public Access to Sunscreens (PASS) Coalition, MRA has engaged with Congress and the FDA to address the current standstill in a process that is clearly broken.

The need for the most advanced and effective sunscreen products is clear, especially during a time when the deadliest skin cancer, melanoma, is increasing in prevalence.  Each year more than 9,800 Americans die of melanoma – that’s one person every hour.  Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States with more than 2 million Americans diagnosed every year.  Exposure to UV rays is a leading cause of melanoma and other skin cancers.

Protecting your skin from harmful UV rays offers incredible benefits, preventing sunburns, skin aging, and reducing your risk of skin cancer.  Experts recommend you protect your skin with the regular usage of sunscreen that is:

1) Broad Spectrum

2) Water Resistant

3) SPF 30 or higher

You can dramatically reduce your risk of skin cancer with the proper use of sunscreen, and hopefully you’ll soon be able to purchase the most cutting-edge sunscreen technologies as Congress, the FDA, the PASS Coalition, and MRA work to enact this bill into law.  Be sure to follow MRA for updates as we track this bill’s progress.

Melanoma News Round-Up, February 7

Here’s your dose of recent melanoma news, featuring exciting research advances, survivor stories, and a bracing look into the dangers of tanning beds.

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Researchers Express Need for a Complete Catalog of Cancer Genes via NY Times

David Cameron’s Sister-In-Law Saved from Skin Cancer by Vigilant Mother via Daily Mail

Bob Marley Would Have Celebrated His 69th Birthday This Week via SKNVibes

Tanning Beds Criticized as Skin Cancer Rates Rise via FH Cancer Research Center

In Vivo Discovery of Immunotherapy Targets in Tumor Microenvironment via Nature

Merck & Amgen Begin Collaboration on Advanced Melanoma Research via The Pharma Letter

Skin Cancer Victim Develops Huge Face Tumor from Excessive Tanning via Express

Amanda’s Story

Twenty four year-old Amanda Greene noticed a new mole that kept changing. A nagging feeling that “something wasn’t right” helped her catch melanoma early.

Amanda GreeneI was 24 when I first noticed a “mark” on my breast. Living a busy life focused mainly on my career, I didn’t even think twice about my health. I felt fine. I didn’t even call it a mole at first because it was just a dot and it had just recently appeared. It was a small dark dot. Almost like the tip of a black Sharpie marker.

A few months later, I noticed it again. It was a larger dark dot that now had a brownish rim around it. The dark center had a faded brown rim with uneven edges that almost looked smeared. At this point, it was the size of a pencil eraser. I wasn’t nervous about it, just casually noticed it and showed a friend. I didn’t want to overreact about it, but at the same time, I knew that “dot” that turned into a growing, darker mole, had not been there before.

That gut feeling is what ended up saving my life…

Read the rest of Amanda’s story on our website.

The Most-Shared Melanoma Stories of 2013

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A melanoma tumor as seen with photoacoustic microscopy, Lihong Wang, Washington University in St. Louis

There was plenty of exciting melanoma news in 2013, from scientific breakthroughs to new treatments to effective melanoma awareness initiatives.  In case you missed some of the buzz, here’s a list of the stories that were shared and liked the most by MRA’s Facebook followers during the year.

Image of the Day: Colorful cancer   (More on this research)

Getting to Root of Redheads’ Higher Melanoma Risk

Giada De Laurentiis Pays Tribute to Late Brother with New PSA

Skin Cancer on the Rise in Young Women

Hugh Jackman’s Skin Cancer Scare: 14 other celebrities who have battled the disease

Skin Cancer Images Help People Check Skin More Often and Effectively

Fargo Woman Describes Life-Changing Experience with Melanoma

Blood Test Could Detect Serious Skin Cancer Spread

What is the Best Way to Prevent and Detect Melanoma?

Texas Just Says No to Indoor Tanning for Teens