beauty lifestyle

Why You Should Wear SPF Every Day

I’m 29 and I have skin cancer.

Currently, I am 30 and cancer free but it took me over 5 months to publish this post. It was originally written back in April.

 

 

 

I’ve worn SPF every day since I was 26 but after almost 20 years of heavy sun exposure for nearly 5 months out of every year, the damage had already been done. Additionally, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma run in my family.

I went in to my dermatology appointment on a Thursday to have a small, pimple sized, clear bump that resided right above my lip looked at. I figured it was a wart and since it was front and center on my face, I wanted it off. I assumed the doctor would take a quick look and freeze it off; uncomfortable, but effortless. Instead, she took one look and said, “That’s basal cell carcinoma but let’s biopsy to be sure.”

To be honest, I thought nothing of it. My friends reassured me that I’d be fine and I decided it was nothing because I didn’t want to deal with it being something. But a week later, the news on my voicemail was not nothing. The biopsy showed basal cell carcinoma and I needed to call back to schedule surgery.

I tried to keep my impending panic attack at bay since I was dead in the middle of a gel manicure at my local salon when I read the transcription of the voicemail on my phone. I kept seeing, “C A N C E R”. Immediately after I walked out the door, I called my best friend and cried hysterically for an hour. The week had been particularly shitty, hence my afternoon manicure treat, and this news pushed me to my breaking point. I’m someone who believes that things happen for a reason. And whether you think that’s silly or not, this was a huge sign for me at this particular point in life – April 2017. I gave myself time to freak out. I cried all afternoon. Because the word cancer is scary. And for me, it was even scarier that it was happening at 29 when Google noted that this was more common in people around the age of 40.

I went over to my best friend’s house for pasta and a lot of wine. And then I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and research what exactly this was.

So, basal cell carcinoma, huh? OK, Satan, let’s dance. Each year, around 4 million people get it, they’re usually somewhere around their 40s, and with the right surgery (typically Mohs) it has a 2% re growth rate. Additionally, it almost always occurs on parts of the body excessively exposed to the sun. 5 months each year for 20 years… The good news is that it almost never metastasizes beyond the original tumor site. Mine was a very small, pearl colored bump that resided in between my nose and my lip but because I already had a spot at such a young age, I’m at risk for developing others over the years, either in the same area or on other parts of my body. It’s a pretty common type of skin cancer and with Mohs surgery the rate of it coming back is low. I scheduled my surgery with one of the best dermatological surgeons in DC, Kelley Redbord, who I highly recommend. She’s no bullsh*t and extremely direct. My kinda gal.

Because the area was on my face, they chose Mohs instead of scooping out a large portion of skin. In any other part of the body, they typically dig out a little deeper to ensure they get all the cancerous cells in one hit. With Mohs, they slice the surface and go look at the patch of skin under a scope to see if cancerous cells are still present. If so, they slice another layer. We did this 4 times. This meant multiple rounds of novicane and multiple rounds of slicing. Since it was on my face, I couldn’t look away. I closed my eyes but that almost personified my other senses each time. Cancer free, I ended up with three stitches and only almost passed out twice. That’s a win in my book. As for the scar, it starts at my nose and ends just above my lip. 5 months and 2 laser sessions later, the scar looks much better than it did when I walked out and friends say they “can’t even tell”. But I can tell and I have to look at it every day for the rest of my life.

 

Wear sunscreen. Be proactive. See your dermatologist and get a full body scan once a year. Tell them to check your scalp. No, you’re not being mellow dramatic. You’re being thorough. 

 

If you take one thing away from my story it’s to trust your gut. Honestly. I saw this bump pop up a year ago and I knew that it wasn’t right. I put it out of my mind because I didn’t want it to be something I’d have to deal with. Well, it ended up being worst case scenario and if I’d gone in earlier maybe my scar would be smaller. Who knows. Because of my age, my doctor suggested I up my annual check ups to 6 months. The scariest part of this for me is that I will likely have to do this again on some other part of my body, it’s just a matter of time.

Maybe basal cell carcinoma and melanoma doesn’t run in your family. Maybe you’re not worried about having to deal with this kind of stuff when you’re older. I thought I had a solid ten years before stuff like this started popping up. Wear sunscreen. Get regularly checked. Wear a baseball hat in the sun.

 

 

My dermatologist recommends this sunscreen. It’s pricey but your skin and health is worth the investment. It’s light and non-greasy; I wear it under my moisturizer and serum every day.

 


 

A few weeks after surgery, I sat down with Noëlle S. Sherber, M.D., F.A.A.D., from Sherber + Rad and asked her a few questions. I was curious about a few things and thought you guys might be interested as well. Find our mini-interview here:

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What should be included in a late 20/early 30 something woman’s skincare regimen?
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A balanced skincare regimen is like a balanced diet: you want to have a little bit of everything in moderation.  I recommend hydration + moisture + antioxidants + sunscreen + exfoliation + collagen stimulation.  The balance of hydration (water) and moisture (oil) your skin needs depends on how oily or dry your skin tends to be, and the type of collagen stimulation that’s appropriate for you depends on your age and other factors such as whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding (in which case an alpha hydroxy acid is appropriate rather than a retinoid).  So, I customize a regimen for each of my patients based on many factors.  They key as you look to design a regimen for yourself is that it be simple and something to which you look forward: each product should be pleasant and the whole process should be streamlined so that you can stick with it and be consistent.
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What 3 products are must-haves and why?
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1) A thorough cleanser – Emerging science is showing us that the free radicals produced by airborne pollution have much the same effect as those produced by UV light.  A recent European study showed that those living in an urban environment developed accelerated brown spots and wrinkling, and we know from experience with UV-induced free radical damage that the oxidative effects include not only collagen weakening (wrinkle formation) and pigment promotion (sun spots) but also DNA damage (skin cancer risk).  This puts a premium on thorough cleansing, to keep the amount of pollution accumulating on the skin to a minimum.
2) An antioxidant-containing broad spectrum sunscreen – Topical antioxidants defend against free radical damage from pollution and UV light so they are an important part of daily skincare, and the perfect complement to sunscreen.  Your sunscreen should be broad spectrum so that it protects from UVA and UVB rays.  An SPF15 sunscreen blocks 93% of UV rays, SPF20 blocks 95%, SPF30 blocks nearly 97%, while SPF50 blocks about 98% of UV rays.  You want to look for a formulation that suits your skin type so that you can apply an adequate quantity: they are tested for a teaspoon to be applied to the face and neck, and if you apply half as much you may as little as the square root of the labeled SPF protection.
3) A gentle retinoid – Topical vitamin A derivatives, such as retinol, repair photoaging and have been shown to be effective in the fight against precancerous skin damage.  They have the added benefit of proven efficacy in treating both acne and wrinkles, both of which are common concerns of patients who see me in their late 20s and 30s.  The key is to use a modern formulation that doesn’t cause redness and peeling because inflammation is not beneficial to the skin and, and a retinoid that is too harsh for your skin can cause these reactions.  You can start using thin ingredient a few times a week, or even as “short contact therapy” as a mask to work it into your regimen.
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What should you be looking for re skincare issues – signs of basal cell, melanoma, etc
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An “ugly duckling,” meaning a spot that doesn’t resemble others on your skin, should prompt a visit to a Board certified dermatologist.  It’s a good idea to check your skin monthly for new or changing spots, and ABCDE can be a good way to scan your skin: Asymmetry (a spot with one half unlike the other), Borders (a spot with poorly defined or irregular edges), Color (uneven color or color darker than your other spots, or even red/white/blue), Diameter (larger than a pencil eraser), Evolution (changing in size, shape, or color).  Basal cell cancer is now the most common cancer in humans, and since 1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer it is something for which we should all be watchful on ourselves and our loved ones: it can look like a pink bump resembling a blemish that doesn’t go away, and often bleeds easily and doesn’t heal as quickly as normal skin would.  I always say to my patients that it’s better to come in if a new spot appears and doesn’t resolve within a month so that I may evaluate it, than to let time pass such that it develops into a significant problem.
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How should your skincare regimen change after surgery?
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Always ask your dermatologist or plastic surgeon for his or her specific post-operative instructions, but keeping the area well-moisturized if you have sutures will help the area to heal quickly.  Broad spectrum sun protection if the scar is in a sun exposed area is very important, sun UV light can cause the scar to redden or discolor.  If you have had a skin cancer, starting on a preventative regimen with topical antioxidants, a higher SPF sunscreen and a nightly retinol can be good next steps.  I begin laser treatments for my patients as soon as two weeks following suture removal to fade the scar, as well.  Of course, the most important change to your skincare regimen is to set calendar reminders for your annual skin exams with your dermatologist to catch any new or changing spots before they have a chance further to evolve.  You may also want to consider professional total body photographs, which can provide a valuable baseline of comparison so that new and changing spots can be readily identified.
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Do you recommend a particular scar treatment gel?
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I recommend Biocorneum because it is the only formulation to include FDA-cleared Silishield technology with SPF30.  FDA regulation of the active ingredient ensures uniformity of the formulation as compared to over the counter products that haven’t gone through a similar approval process.  Clinical studies have demonstrated that topical silicones improve the appearance of scars when applied throughout the healing process, and the added sunscreen is a benefit to prevent sun damage as the scar heals. Many of my patients also apply this on non-sun-exposed scars, also, because the silicone gel dries to form a thin protective layer on delicate skin; this is the product Angelina Jolie described using on her scars following breast reconstruction.  Another very popular scar treatment in my practice is La Mer The Concentrate, and some of my patients like to use Biocorneum in the daytime for sun protection and The Concentrate overnight for more soothing from the added antioxidants.
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6 Comments

  • Reply
    bettyjoan
    August 29, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    Thank you for writing this – I am so glad you are okay. I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma when I was 19, and the crazy part was that I wasn’t even a sun-worshipper. Bottom line, people should take care of their skin from the get-go – and the good news is, we have come SO FAR in terms of product variety and availability, so there are options at nearly every price point. Again, congrats for getting through the tough times – feel free to reach out if you need anything.

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      Reply
      District Sparkle
      September 14, 2017 at 10:50 am

      Thank you, Betty! I can’t imagine battling malignant melanoma, especially at such a young age – I hope that you’re doing well. Thank you for sharing here.

  • Reply
    Libby Rasmussen
    August 31, 2017 at 1:36 pm

    This is so so so important. Thank you for sharing your story and best practices/prevention!

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      District Sparkle
      September 14, 2017 at 10:51 am

      Thanks, Libby! I’m so glad that my story can help bring awareness to the issue and SO glad that a few women have made appointments after reading this post!

  • Reply
    Katy
    September 12, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    Meaghan,
    I’ve been following your blog on and off for a few years, and this post couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I recently had what I thought was a mole removed from my lower eyelid a few weeks ago for cosmetic purposes and was shocked when I heard the word “cancer” from my dermatologist’s mouth upon receiving the biopsy results. I was diagnosed with BCC last week – only 6 days after my 27th birthday – and I’ll also have the Mohs procedure within the next couple of weeks. I am so glad you are okay (as okay as anybody can be… it’s a scary situation, and I can’t imagine anyone ever being fully okay after this). Knowing that other young women have gone through this and survived the surgery without horrible disfiguration is everything to me right now.
    Thank you for addressing prevention and thank you for bravely publishing this post about your experience.
    xo Katy

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      District Sparkle
      September 14, 2017 at 10:56 am

      KATY. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m so sorry you’re going through this right now. Please feel free to reach out to me via email if you’d like to talk any further about this or you have any questions. I recommend taking someone with you as the rounds of Mohs can take a chunk of the day and be emotionally exhausting. I also recommend discussing after-care and scar prevention treatment with the surgeon, especially because of the location. Mine suggested OTC scar gel and massaging the area daily once it had completely healed. Again, I’m more than happy to discuss this with you in detail if you have any questions. Sending you positivity and strength.

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