As a child, I spent countless hours in the sun. 

My first job was walking beans — read about it here, if you’re not from the Midwest. I would lie out any chance I got, preferably in a bikini to ensure I was exposing every possible square inch of skin to the sun’s rays. For my chores, I lobbied hard to mow the lawn and tend to the garden rather than to dust and vacuum. 

I spent weeks at my grandparents’ cabin, waterskiing, boating, fishing and walking on the beach. 

sun safety

Going for Tan

Normally, I didn’t burn. I tanned. I was lucky. My cousin and I would spend full days outside in a sort of friendly competition for the darkest skin and lightest hair.

Sunscreen wasn’t a thing when I was a kid. We *might* have applied a quick layer of SPF 2 oil, if we were going to be at the beach all day. But that was the exception — not the rule. (And let’s be honest: SPF 2 probably wasn’t doing much, anyway.) 

Once, I used sunscreen during a family vacation and starting itching so badly, I had to go to the doctor. Turns out, I’m allergic to propylparaben, a common ingredient in sunscreens. I didn’t use any the next few days and burned so badly that my skin peeled off in sheets. U-g-l-y.

Still, when I was in my 20s, I occasionally visited the tanning booth to dim the white glow of my winter body. 

Paying the Price

Years later, I am paying the price for my childhood sun-worshipping days. 

Shortly after my husband and I married 16 years ago, I had a nagging itch on my back. It wasn’t a mole. There was really nothing to see — just a tiny bump about the size of a pinhead. But my husband talked me into going to the dermatologist. 

That tiny itch was a basal cell carcinoma, the most common form of skin cancer. In the United States alone, about 3.6 million cases are diagnosed each year. Because they’re slow growing, most are treatable and cause minimal damage if caught early. 

In my case, a surgeon made a football-shaped incision near my spine, sliced out the bad cells and sewed me back up. Since then, I have seen a dermatologist roughly every year and had several other abnormal cells frozen or cut off various parts of my body. 

And so far, I’m one of the lucky ones. (I remind my kids of this every time I’m slathering the family in sunscreen.)

skin cancer

Big Numbers

Twenty percent of Americans will develop skin cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. One in five. Chances are, that’s one in your household. 

Want some more stats?

    • Two people die of skin cancer every hour.
    • In the U.S., more than 9,500 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every day. 
    • More than 5.4 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were treated in over 3.3 million people in the U.S. in 2012, the most recent year new statistics were available.
    • More people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year in the U.S. than all other cancers combined.

Melanoma can be fatal, but want the good news? The five-year survival rate is a whopping 99 percent for melanoma that is detected early. 

Brown spots, moles and growths on the skin usually are harmless. The ABCDEs and the Ugly Duckling (a mole that is simply different from the rest) may give you early indicators of melanoma. In other words, look for anything unusual, new or changing. Women commonly find melanomas on their legs; men on their trunks. But melanomas can pop up anywhere — even on skin typically unexposed to the sun. 

OK… So we’ve discussed basal cells and melanomas. Let’s touch on the rare and aggressive merkel cell carcinoma and the second-most common type of skin cancer: squamous cell carcinoma. Like all skin cancers, try to catch these early. 

While the majority of squamous cells can be easily and successfully treated if caught early, if allowed to grow, the lesions can become disfiguring or even deadly. 

Merkel cell is a different animal. It’s 40 times more rare and three to five times more deadly than melanoma. With equally aggressive treatment, however, recovery is possible. In fact, a good friend’s mom recently underwent an innovative, new type of treatment for merkel cell and so far, her scans have come back clean. 

sunscreen

Skin Aging

Even if you are one of the fortunate ones who never get skin cancer, there’s another issue at play here: skin aging. 

An estimated 90 percent of skin aging is caused by the sun. Sun damage is cumulative, with only about 23 percent of lifetime exposure happening by the age of 18. 

The American Academy of Dermatology Association lists 11 ways to protect skin against premature aging. Number one? Protect your skin from the sun. Seek shade, wear sun-protective clothing and use sunscreen SPF 30 (or higher) every day on areas of the body not covered by clothing. Other suggestions include using a self-tanner rather than rays to get your bronze and applying a facial moisturizer every day. 

It’s never too late for a better skincare routine. The Dermatology Association suggests that even people who already show signs of premature skin aging can benefit from making lifestyle changes. By protecting your skin from the sun, you give it a chance to repair some of the damage. 

Looking for further info on how to protect your skin (and your kids’) from increased risk of cancer and/or premature aging? The Skin Cancer Foundation has put together a handy-dandy little resource called Your Daily Sun Protection Guide with lots of common-sense tips and recommendations. 

Finally… Stories + Tips from Other Moms

Moms from across our network have wisdom to share about sun safety. Read on…

Sunscreen + Self-Tanners

If you’ve not yet experienced it yourself, it’s likely you’ve watched this poolside scene go down. The sunscreen application meltdown. The typical perpetrator includes a very wiggly toddler. Nearby, a stressed-appearing parent holds a tube of s…

Don’t Feel the Burn: Decoding the Not-So-Straightforward Sunscreen Label

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I take pride in the fact that “lazy mama” is basically my middle name. So sunscreen isn’t my favorite subject because, let’s be real: it’s annoying. I can barely muster the wherewithal to put sunscreen on my own dang face every day, so it d…

Lazy Mama Manual – How to Pick an Awesome Sunscreen

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I have very fair skin. I embrace this about 99% of the time. But sometimes when I break out the shorts, tank-tops, and swimsuits, I really want to feel tan and summer-y. Also, it’s easier to feel confident in a bathing suit when my upper thighs…

Summer Ready :: Get a Natural Sunless Tan at Home

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It feels like we’re in a lose-lose situation when it comes to the sun. We’re scared of it, we’re scared of sun cancer and now we’re also scared of sunscreen because it just might be the MOST TOXIC THING EVER. But what’s the truth? What’s …

Safe Sunscreen Guide: What To Use, What To Avoid & Why

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As moms, we always want the best for our kids, and when it comes to choosing sun protection it’s no different. So how do we respond when news emerges that a product we slather on to protect goes more than just skin-deep, with some unknown cons…

Dermatologist-Recommended Safe Sunscreens for the Whole Family

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Skin Cancer

Back in late February/early March my husband was diagnosed with skin cancer in two areas. Even though skin cancer has become common and treatable, it is always scary to hear the word “cancer” especially when coming from a doctor’s m…

The Importance of Being Tested for Skin Cancer

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“You have skin cancer.” Those were the words the nurse said to me over the phone.  The nurse quickly went on to add that it was basal cell skin cancer which is treatable and non-life threatening.   I had gone to the dermatologist a week…

I Had Skin Cancer: One Mom’s Story

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I’ve been aware of skin cancer since I was a kid, or at least aware that getting sunburns is bad. My mom slathered a thick coat of white zinc on my nose and cheeks growing up, and she stayed in the shade. Fair-skinned and green-eyed like her, I lea…

Skin Cancer Doesn’t Always Look Like A Mole – What You Need to Know This Summer (Skin Cancer Awareness Month)

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Other Tips

Since there’s a good chance you’ll be out in the sun this summer, here are some tips to protect yourself from the sun without sunscreen! It is possible to keep you and your littles safe without using sunscreen. Whether you don’t lik…

9 Ways to Protect Yourself from the Sun without Sunscreen

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I have always been interested in beauty and skincare dating back to high school. Sadly, when I look in the mirror today, I no longer see the soft, wrinkle-free face of a 16-year-old!  During the pandemic, I took the time to research and tweak my…

Skincare Tips and Products for Tired Mom Skin

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Working in family medicine, I get asked all the time about what vitamins a patient should be taking. And in general my advice is… it depends. I liken it to a car. How do you know your car needs more oil? You have a sensor that goes off, or it has b…

Vitamin D:: What You NEED to Know!

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In my last post for this collective, we tackled a mini science lesson on decoding the not-so-straightforward sunscreen label in light of Skin Cancer Awareness Month. I’m a mama and a pediatrician and a mega nerd, making matters of sun protection su…

Sun Safety, Part 2: A Geeky Guide To Sun Protective Clothing

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