Ahhh, summer. It’s right around the corner. That glorious season where the weather is warmer, the layers are fewer, and the sun is stronger. While you might be counting down the days until your lounging poolside, your skin will be wishing you made other plans.
According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide, with more than 9,500 people diagnosed with it every day in this country. If that’s not enough to make you slather on the sunscreen, did you know that having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma?
These skin cancer facts, combined with the amount of time I’ve spent out in the sun throughout my lifetime (often not making skin protection a priority), is what led me to find a dermatologist and go for my very first whole-body skin check this past week at 36 years of age.
When you grow up on Long Island, spending your summers at the beach is a way of life. It’s synonymous with diving under waves and stopping at Carvel for ice cream on your way home from a day of fun in the sun. But when you’re a kid, there’s always someone to remind you to put sunscreen on, make sure that you leave enough time between application and jumping in the water again, and ensure you didn’t miss covering every inch of your skin. And while it doesn’t seem like a difficult concept, there’s something about sun protection that seems harder when you’re an adult. I’m often guilty of thinking that I don’t need to put sunscreen on because I’m only going to be outside “for a minute,” which then turns into hours, or feeling like I don’t need to reapply because I’m not getting a burn. But these ways of thinking have contributed to more skin damage than I would like to admit. Add in my late teenage years when tanning beds were all the rage, and you can see why I would be nervous to be examined by a dermatologist.
Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, I set my fears aside and made my way to my appointment for a whole-body skin check, ready to confess my sins of summers past. I have to admit, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect during the exam, but some friends who have had skin checks in the past told me to remove my nail polish and not to wear any makeup to the appointment. Once I arrived and was escorted to the exam room, I changed into a paper gown and waited to see the doctor. When she came in, we reviewed my medical history and my sun exposure risk factors, including noting any family history of skin cancer. I was honest about my tanning bed usage back in the day, the number of burns I’ve had (as best as I can recall), and that I’m forgetful when it comes to reapplying sunscreen. I was fully expecting a lengthy lecture, but instead, my honesty was met with compassion, and she educated me further on the importance of proper sun protection and risk factors for melanoma (which, to my surprise given my work experience in the space, also included an increased risk of pancreatic cancer in families with familial melanoma and CDKN2A mutations).
As for the exam itself, it was relatively quick and painless. My doctor had me stand up to examine my backside, noting any potential areas of concern on my torso or the backs of my legs, before laying down to go over my entire body. While there were a few spots that she used a magnifying glass to get a closer look at, nothing, in particular, raised any concerns during the exam, so that was a welcome relief.
After the whole-body exam was complete, which took less than ten minutes, we discussed the importance of using proper sun protection with an SPF of 30 or better, applying sunscreen 15 minutes before going out, and reapplying sunscreen every two hours. And, while I haven’t used a tanning bed since high school, she reminded me to never, ever use a tanning bed again (a sentiment that was also echoed by the Skin Cancer Foundation with this statistic: People who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent).
While the initial thought of seeing a dermatologist for a skin check was anxiety-producing, I’m glad I set aside time to do it and learned more about skin cancer and my risk factors. So, now that I’ve had my skin checked, the countdown to summer can begin…once I stock up on my trusty SPF 30+!
P.S. If you need more inspiration to book your annual skin check exam, check out this Reel for more skin cancer and sun protection facts!