Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Hide Is Fried

 When I was 26 years old, a funky little bump appeared on my left temple and somehow I just knew it was skin cancer. My dermatologist said that I almost won for youngest person she had seen with skin cancer. Since then it's been a regular trip for me, trucking off to the dermatologist every so often to have something looked at or burned off.

I spent my adolescent years, which took place during the 60's and 70's, in east Texas. Huge dark tans were expected and I can remember being made fun of because of my white legs. I am fair and freckled but spent hours upon hours beside the pool anyway, coated with baby oil, thinking that I was going to bronze up. Actually, we frequently used cooking oil with the idea that it would soak into our skin, as opposed to mineral-based baby oil, and would moisturize our skin. How hysterical is that logic! Though I never used it, once I moved to the northeast I learned that iodine was a crucial ingredient in homemade tanning oil.                                    
By the early 80's I had begun to slack off the tanning efforts somewhat, partly because of the risks, mainly because it was edgy and fresh, almost defiant, not just to not have a crispy critter tan but to actually be somewhat pale. Pre-goth. But the damage was done. No amount of sitting in the shade would undo the second degree sunburns or UV frying.

Rates of skin cancer have been increasing rapidly the past few years. Maybe it's the ozone hole (or not), maybe it's the increased leisure time we have to spend at the pool (well, some folks any way). But a huge factor in the increase of skin cancer in younger and younger individuals has been tanning beds. I've spent a total of 15 minutes in a tanning bed- it kind of freaked me out, like a big hand was going to reach in and poke me with a fork and a little red button was going to pop out of my belly.

The saying goes, "Check you birthday suit on your birthday." Take some private time with your skin, a mirror, and no clothing to look for changes in moles and freckles as well as to notice any new ones. Follow the ABCDE's of skin care-- you need to keep an eye on (or get your dermatologist's eye on) any pigmented area on your hide that falls into one of these categories:

Asymmetrical- Any mole or freckle that has an uneven, lopsided shape or is different on one side.
Border- Irregular edges.
Color- Moles that are blue, brown, black on one side but not the other or that have changed color in general.
Diameter- Larger than a pencil eraser.
Evolving- Any mole, freckle, or lesion that is changing or elevated.

The Skin Cancer Foundation has a really nice page on self-examination.

There are several good websites about skin cancer, assessment, treatment, and prevention:

I wish I could say that my skin is now lily white and never sees a single ray of sun but the truth is that being out in the sun is a hard habit to break. I love to be outside.

Yahoo Health has nice info on soothing a sunburn should that happen. I've always favored the pure aloe gel and soaky bath with vinegar.

Anything that comes between you and the sun offers some degree of protection. I keep a big dark golf umbrella in my car, just in case I'm stuck in the sun some place.

Coolibar offers protective sun clothing, as do SunProtective Clothing and Sun-Togs.

Sunscreen? Anything is better than nothing, but some are better than others. American Academy of Dermatology has a nice page about sunscreen. My personal derm-lady insists on sunscreens that contain zinc oxide or titanium dioxide.

I debated about photos for this post. I'll leave it up to you to do an image search for sun damaged skin--

--or skin cancer. Some of the pictures aren't pretty. Effective, but not pretty.

Me? Well, I'm trying to set a good example for my kid about skin care and sun exposure but like I say it's a hard thing to give up. I came to peace with my complexion long ago and it's been ages since I "layed out" to get a tan but there's always that tug to get just a bit of a healthy tan, which of course is an oxymoron.

Maybe it's a good excuse to get one of Abby's black lace parasols.

Stay cool and shady!

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