The Skin-ny on Skin Cancer Awareness & Protection

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Skin and sun advice from one of NYC’s leading dermatologists

Everyday the sun seems just a little bright brighter, the days keep getting longer, and the temperature is going higher and higher. These halcyon days of summer mean sun dresses, tank tops, bathing suits, beaches and pool parties. Sadly, too much sun leads not only to sunburn, but wrinkles, sunspots, pigmentation issues and changes in skin texture. But far beyond those shallow concerns, it also can mean skin cancer.

This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the summer! You just need to pay attention to your exposure and always be prepared. Today, we’re happy to bring Dr. Amy Wechsler, a board certified dermatologist and psychiatrist (she’s one of only two such doctors in the whole country) who is graciously sharing her knowledge and advice on Skin Cancer Awareness and Protection with the we heart this readers. ~ wht

With summer upon us, there are a few facts you should know before heading into the sunshine:
• Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the US.
• Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer, combined.
• One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime.
• More than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the US each year.

Skin cancer is on the rise due to everything from the invention of tanning beds to global warming, which has depleted the upper atmosphere’s protective ozone layer. Fortunately there are ways you can protect yourself:

Always seek shade. It reduces UV by 50 to 95 percent. Avoidance is your number-one tactic, especially between ten in the morning and four in the afternoon, and near reflective surfaces (sand, water, snow). Even when it’s overcast, 80 percent of UV rays zips through the clouds. (In fact, you should even wear sunscreen when sitting in a window seat on a plane)

Cover your body. You’re thinking, who in their right mind wears a lot of clothes by the pool? Or on a hike? Be creative. At the beach, when you’re not in the water, wrap a beach towel around your lower half, put on a tee shirt and wear a wide-brimmed hat. For sports, invest in a few pieces of lightweight clothing especially made with an ultraviolet protection factor, or UPF. A UPF of 50 means only one-fifth of the sun’s rays pass through it. Or use a laundry product with TinosorbFD to increase the UPF of your clothes; it will last through repeated washings.

Think one teaspoon, two shot glasses. Slather on sunscreen…apply one teaspoon’s worth of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher (which filters out 97 percent of UVB rays) on the face and at least three ounces, two shot glasses full, on the body. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays and contains at least 9 percent invisible zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. (I like Neutrogena’s Sensitive Skin Sunscreen. Anthelios XL 50 Fluide Extreme (made by La Roche-Posay) is another good one for the face.)

Sunscreen Tips:
• Apply sunscreen indoors, about thirty minutes before you go out in the sun.
• Ignore promises of “all-day protection” and “water resistant”; they are not reliable. Reapply all sunscreens at least every two to three hours and right after sweating or swimming.
• There’s an expiration date on sunscreens. Check it and toss old ones.
• Don’t store sunscreens in the glove compartment of your car – heat degrades them.
• Don’t forget to protect the lips, hands and ears. Those are common areas for skin cancer that people forget about.

Screening. Be proactive about scheduling an appointment with a dermatologist if you’ve never been to one, and be diligent about regular, once yearly checkups to have a complete body exam. It’s also important to screen for funny, changing spots or moles at home.

The ABCs to identification:
Asymmetry – half of the spot doesn’t match or look like the other half.
Borders that are irregular – ragged, notched, or blurred around the edges.
Color changes – say, from tan to black or red to bluish.
Diameter – anything larger than a pencil eraser (6 millimeters) should be scrutinized, in addition to anything that’s started growing.
When in doubt, get it checked out.

Amy Wechsler, MD is the author of The Mind-Beauty Connection:9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You. She is also the founder of Dr. Amy Wechsler Dermatology, practice based in her hometown of New York City, which specializes in customized skin care and the Mind-Body Connection.

Her sound and sensible skin advice has been sought by and featured in some of your favorite publications including InStyle, Marie Claire, Martha Stewart Living, Allure, Better Homes & Gardens and yes, even the big O, Oprah Magazine.

Image of Dr. Wechsler; Michael Black/Black Sun



  1. Now am I feeling guilty for basking in the sun yesterday? A leetle… Everything in moderation, right? Right? Sigh, at least I have St. Tropez to keep me cancer-free AND tan.

  2. This is the first time I’ve ever seen the “one teaspoon, two shot glasses” tip, which is SO useful!
    My family members have had skin cancer, and I’ve had irregular moles removed, so I’m a maniac about sun protection. It’s sunscreen and self-tanners for me. Thank you for this invaluable post!

  3. Having just come from my yearly mole check with my dermatologist, I urge everyone to go get a check. I usually have something removed each time, so you can never be too sure.
    Also, don;t forget to protect the tops of the feet! That is a painful place to get a burn! ouch

  4. Dr. Wechsler – thank you for the all the sun smart reminders. I love the Anthelios sunscreen product and use it…but I could probably be better about putting sunscreen on my hands and arms when driving. That is the one that always gets me!

  5. My husband and I are TERRIBLE about using sunscreen. I’m okay because I’m rarely in the sun, but my husband is outside daily and doesn’t use it AT ALL. (Drives me bonkers.)

    My only hesitation with applying it is I have a BAD track record with sunscreen because something in most formulas, even hypoallergenic and PABA-free, make me break out into a weird rash. (It made for a great time in Aruba on my honeymoon…by the third day I was itchy and miserable…)
    I’ll try the Neutrogena Sensitive Skin next, anyone else have an recommendations?

  6. The Two Shots Rule is a keeper! Thanks for these great tips Dr. Wechsler! I have to say that I have switched almost all of my Body SPF usage to spray on formulas. But I may go back to lotions with that trick.

    I’m pretty diligent about using sunscreen and avoiding direct sunlight as much as possible. BUT I wish I could go back in time and tell my pool-rat youth to put on some Sunscreen! And stop trying to get tanner than is possible for your skin – and get off that silver blanket for god’s sake!!

    So now it’s yearly trips to my derm for an all over body check and look at all my freckles and bonus gifts from those years in the sun.
    .-= Tyna Werner´s last blog ..Etsy 4 for Friday – Flower Power =-.

  7. Ok, can I just say how much I was the girl in that top picture right now? Look at that beach!

  8. Love these tips, Doc – thank you! And the tsp/shot glasses will be easy to remember – as well as the ABCDs. That one I did used to teach my students about when I taught biology. The other thing I would tell them though, is not to go too extreme in the sun avoidance direction. We do need minimal sun exposure to produce vitamin D – deficiencies can lead to osteoporosis among other things. The latest research I heard on that though, was only 5 minutes a day – and that was for babies. I’m sure they mean during the early morning or after 4pm, though. I don’t know if the same amount of time holds true for all adults in all parts of the world, though. Here in Michigan, our sun time is so limited anyways, it’s hard to keep yourself out of it, but like @katieg said – that’s why we have St. Tropez! I agree, moderation is key in all things.

  9. I love that “two shot glass tip” — too many times you get those patchy burns cause you’re trying ot be cheap with the sunblock! Really!?!?!? Why do we do that?

  10. These are great tips! I’m glad you posted this for as many eyes to see as possible! I remember my Nana telling us as kids how she used to put baby oil and iodine together to get her bronzed tan.. 1983 was the last year I ever sunbathed.. I’m so glad someone told me way back then that too much sun will ruin your skin for good. We have so many great products available today to give us that healthy glow without harming our skin.. Isn’t modern science amazing!

  11. These are great tips, but don’t forget we humans rely on the sun for Vitamin D. We only get a teeny tiny bit from food and the rest comes from the sun; the rays trigger the body to produce Vitamin D. 10 minutes a day without SPF (or 30 minutes with SPF 15) is all you need to get your daily allowance of Vitamin D.

    Vitamin D is essential for the body; it helps build strong bones, prevents headaches (especially migraines), helps relieve and reduce symptoms of arthritis and studies are showing it drastically reduces the risk for developing Lupus, Alzheimers, Osteoporosis, Fibromyalgia, Rheumatoid Arthritis and cancers (lupus and cancer run in my family). If you live in seasonal areas like me, Vitamin D also effectively treats SAD (seasonal affective disorder). Rickets (a severe lack of Vitamin D) is painful and 100% preventable.

    This doesn’t give you the right to literally bake in the sun, but it does show how important the sun is for humans.

    Also, remember that not every freckle/mole will develop skin cancer or is from the sun. I was born with a trio of large, unsymmetrical, unevenly colored freckles behind my left ear. Even though they are birth marks, I take extra care to put SPF and check on those. Monitor your freckles is the key to preventing skin cancer.

    If you have time, find an American Legion near you (if you live in the states) and inquire if they’re in need of sunscreen lotions to send to troops. The American Legion is always in need of supplies to put into the care packages they send out to troops fighting overseas. We remember to send our troops toothpaste, deodorant, toothbrushes and foot powder but we forget they need sunscreen over in the Middle East. My dad served over there in the first Gulf War and he didn’t have sunscreen or sunglasses that blocked UVA/UVB rays; as a result, he has a lot of scars on his back from moles being biopsied. Don’t just remember to protect yourself and your family, but also remember the troops too.

  12. A very appreciated post! This pale Irish Lass uses and will continue to use these helpful hints!

  13. Great tip on the sunscreen for troops, @Katie! As an Army brat who’s done loads of care packages, I know sunscreen is one that people often forget. I think it’s because it’s something we associate with recreation and not a practical everyday item.

  14. @Alyssa I was an “Army brat” too. I hate calling myself an Army brat; I don’t like the connotation it has. Military kids are, by far, the least brattiest people I’ve ever met. We deal with a lot that other kids don’t deal with–anxiety, depression, moving place to place and especially fear. I prefer to say I was a military kid than a military/army/navy/marine/air force brat, especially since both sides of my family have military history.

    Do you find yourself still thinking you have to move? I’ve lived here in the Midwest for about 11 years now and I still have to remind myself we aren’t moving every few years!

  15. @Alyssa – Maybe try Coppertone Water babies sunscreen? It’s formulated for babies, so it’s supposed to be gentle. I have very sensitive skin that breaks out easily and Aveeno and Water babies are the only ones that haven’t messed up my skin. Neutrogena made me break out in itchy, blistery bumps when I used it on my face, but it’s okay on my body. Weird. Hope that helps :)
    I’m super fair and careful about my sun exposure. I finally bought a hat to protect myself for long periods of sun exposure and while I look like a deranged bee keeper, I at least am taking care of myself. The hubby drives me nuts, though–he’s fair, too, but with freckles, and NEVER wears sunscreen. I bug him about it and I think he puts it on maybe 3 times a year when I catch him. *sigh*

  16. I’m terrible about applying sunscreen. I usually follow rule number 1 – AVOID! I’m indoors most of the time as a student taking classes. I usually stay fairly covered up so the time I spend driving to school and then walking between classes is enough for me to get my minimum vitamin D requirements. However, when I go to the beach I SLATHER on the sunscreen like clockwork, wear a hat and a cover-up of some sort like a thigh skimming dress and then toss a towel over my legs. No sunburn for me!

  17. These are the great ways to prevent the skin cancer. We should be aware for this kind of diseases. Especially now, summertime, don’t expose too much to the sun. Sun can damage our skin.

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