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).

 

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Melanoma Awareness From a High Schooler’s Perspective: Where We Are and Where We Need To Be

Not many teenagers know that melanoma is the number one new cancer diagnosed in young adults ages 25-29. It is also difficult to believe that as with many mistakes made at a young age, neglecting sun safety during childhood and adolescence can harm you later in life.

Most of my peers would never dream of lighting a cigarette, yet few would think twice about laying out unprotected at the pool or beach.  Luckily, people are beginning to understand the dangers of indoor tanning, appropriately likening tanning beds to coffins. In previous years, girls would go to tanning beds before school dances. They now settle for a safer (but orange) alternative: spray-tans. Skin cancer awareness has increased, sadly due to the rise in its prevalence, but there is still a ways to go. Most people I know have yet to realize that unprotected sun exposure is just as deadly as a tanning bed.

They're called artificial sun for a reason

They’re called artificial sun for a reason

My paler friends are the most vigilant about sunscreen use. Not one of them wants to get sunburned, so they’re sure to use (and re-apply!) broad-spectrum, high-SPF sunscreen to protect themselves. They do this to escape short-term effects of the sun, but rarely think about the sun’s capability for long-term damage. They are correct in practice, but lack part of the motive for their protective actions. Maybe this is why the occasional girl will still come home from spring break bright red.  They don’t know the danger and how one blistering sunburn in childhood or adolescence doubles their risk for melanoma.

Many of my friends have olive-toned skin, like I do, that tans easily and rarely burns. It is hard for people with this skin type to think twice about going to the beach and getting a dark tan.  Ironically, we are quick to criticize our fair-skinned friends when they get badly sunburned, but the truth is everyone is at risk for melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Tanning is a sign of our body’s response to damage caused by harmful UV rays. Without sunscreen, UV rays from the sun penetrate the skin and damage DNA. Cells called melanocytes can begin to grow uncontrollably because of change in their genetic makeup, and melanoma (skin cancer of melanocytes) develops. Many people do not see skin cancer as a big deal. It is often thought of as a spot that can be removed and forgotten. However, this is not the case with melanoma, which makes up only 4% of skin cancer cases but 80% of skin cancer deaths. Melanoma spreads extremely rapidly and if not caught and treated early on, will spread to the lymph nodes and vital organs. Stage 0 or 1 melanoma has a 90% cure rate, while Stage 4 melanoma patients have a median life expectancy of less than a year. If more people knew these facts, the melanoma death rate could decrease significantly.

What does the future hold for melanoma awareness? Teenagers have already progressed to the point where most of us avoid tanning beds. The next step is to be better at protecting ourselves from the sun, even though it means giving up tanning in favor of sunscreen, healthy skin, and a melanoma-free life. If we can be truly and completely aware of the sun’s hazards, we can motivate ourselves and others to eradicate this aggressive but completely preventable disease.

About the Author

abouttheauthorI’m Isabella Todaro, a rising junior at Georgetown Visitation in Washington, D.C. I have spent this past week as a volunteer at MRA and learned a lot in the process. My cousin has been working here for two years, so I was already interested in the organization before I decided to volunteer. The experience has been great, as I have learned information that otherwise might have remained unfamiliar to me. Like many people, I used to think that getting sunburned, but not getting a tan, puts people at risk for melanoma. Now I know that both of these dangerous behaviors are risky. After learning this and so much more at MRA, I intend to practice sun safety and let others know why they should, too.

Melanoma News Round-Up, June 21

Hello everyone!  We hope you had a wonderful week and you’ve been staying sun safe.  Here are a few highlights to share with you:

High school students created melanoma awareness videos to warn their peers about the dangers of melanoma as part of the Jeff Dulude Melanoma Foundation & Edgemaker’s Defeat Melanoma PSA contest.  We think you’ll agree that the results are powerful and moving.

 

Top 30 Grant-Giving Disease Foundations via GEN (Spoiler: MRA is #1)

More Arrows in the Arsenal: dramatic advacenments in Immunotherapy offer news options for patients with melanoma via John Hopkins Medicine

What’s the Best Sunscreen For You via U.S. World News & Report

Balloons raise money for melanoma sufferer via The Examiner

Sunscreen alone not enough to protect against melanoma via Medical News Today

Checkpoint agents are shifting paradigms toward immunotherapy via OncLive

Cancer survivor continues to fight via Livingston Daily

Tales from ASCO: The future of cancer research via Philly.com

Best not to fool around with the sun gods via Dallas Morning News

 

Melanoma News Round-Up, June 14

Hello everyone!  Summer is in full swing and we have a fantastic video to share with you on the incredible promise of immunotherapy for melanoma treatment.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JGn1nJNm98]

 

And here’s the latest blast of melanoma news!

Tales from ASCO: Q&A with MRA’s Chief Science Officer Louise Perkins via Philly.com

New drugs target patient as well as disease, but who will pay? via Daily Herald

Nature study by MRA-supported researcher reveals need for multiple forms of sun protection via BBC News

Skin cancer drug that can extend patient’s life recommended for use on NHS via Telegraph

Immunotherapy Today: The View from ASCO via Cancer Research

What type of sunscreen is best? via Wall Street Journal

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, November 8

Enjoy your weekend and remember to be sun smart!  Here’s the latest melanoma news, plus a great skin IQ infographic, to keep you updated on all things melanoma:

MyriadSkinInfographic

Infographic via Myriad Genetics

Blood test could detect serious skin cancer spread via BBC News

The Economist honors cancer immunotherapy pioneer James Allison via MD Anderson News

History of Prostate Cancer Tied to Higher Odds for Melanoma via US News

The Pills of Last Resort: How Dying Patients Get Access to Experimental Drugs via the New York Times

5 things I now know about melanoma via Oncology Nurse Advisor

Distraught parents’ anger after doctors failed to spot 33-year-old daughter’s skin cancer two years before she died via the Daily Mail

Misdiagnoses and Sequencing in Melanoma via OncLive

The Simple Thing You Can Do Every Day To Look Young via the Huffington Post