skin cancer

What You Need to Know About West Nile

August 28, 2012 at 1:18 pm , by

You may have already heard the scary news about West Nile: More than 1,000 people have reported symptoms of the virus and 41 have died, more cases than any year since the virus was first detected in 1999, according to the CDC. Enough to up the ante on your anti-mosquito efforts? I think so. But don’t panic. Most people won’t get sick, even if they get bit by a mosquito carrying the virus.

Aside from bug bites, there are a couple of other things to watch out for as you celebrate summer’s end this weekend. We’ve put together a little checklist to remind you about all three.

1. Buy some bug spray
This map shows the severity of the West Nile outbreak–every state save Vermont has seen some activity. Again, no reason to freak out, but you should know that people over 50 or those who have chronic conditions like kidney disease or diabetes are especially at risk. West Nile doesn’t spread via human contact. You can only get it from a mosquito bite, so a bottle of bug repellent can go a long way. Learn more about the best bug sprays and how to apply them here. It’s also a good idea to get rid of any standing water around your home and check your window screens for holes.

2. Wear sunscreen
It may not be all over the news, but the risk of sunburn (which can lead to skin cancers later on) is as real as ever. Dermatologists recommend sunscreens that have broad-spectrum protection and an SPF of 30. And to really get protection, you’ve got to slather it on thick like vanilla icing and re-apply every two hours. If you’re going to be outside all day, don’t forget to seek shade when you can and pack a wide-brimmed hat for extra protection.

3. Drink lots of water
This has been one of the hottest summers on record since 1950. Thankfully, things are cooling off a bit, but dehydration and other heat-related illnesses are still important to watch out for, especially in children and the elderly.  On a normal day, a 150-pound woman has to drink 65 ounces of water to replace what’s lost through sweating, peeing and breathing. So if you’re sweating even a little, you should drink throughout the day. Don’t wait until you feel thirsty! And remember, regular old water is your best bet.

Have a safe and fun Labor Day from the LHJHealthLadies!

Hot And Healthy Fourth Of July

July 3, 2012 at 11:07 am , by

Looks like there are only two possibilities for this year’s Fourth of July forecast: hot or hotter. The record heat wave continues, with many states under a heat advisory and temperatures in the 90s and up across the country, according to the National Weather Service. Yikes.

But all sweat aside, a day off is a day off, and I’ll bet you’re forging ahead with your barbecue, beach day or other fun-in-the-sun plans. I know I am! So we’ve put together a few safety reminders for you—before you head outside.

Keep the Water Flowing
Sweat much? On a normal day, a 150-pound woman has to drink around 65 ounces of water to replace what’s lost through sweating, peeing and breathing. In heat like this, you need even more. Water is your best bet. Sugary liquid calories in sodas or sweet tea add up fast. Most people don’t need sports drinks, but if it’s really hot and the danger of dehydration is high, it wouldn’t hurt to pack some Gatorade in your cooler. Alcohol and caffeine can act as a diuretic and make you even more dehydrated, so limit those in the heat. Kids and the elderly are especially prone to dehydration, so if you’re heading to the beach or fireworks, pack plenty of bottled water for the whole family—and remind them to drink it.

Shield Yourself From the Sun
If you don’t wear sunscreen, you’re probably going to get burned, and that can lead to scary skin cancers. Dermatologists recommend sunscreens that have broad-spectrum protection with at least an SPF 30. No matter how high the SPF, you’ve got to really slather it on and re-apply every two hours—even if it’s cloudy. Make sure the kids do, too.  And no sunscreen can protect you all day, so plan ahead and bring a tent or sun umbrellas and a wide-brimmed hat.

Watch Out For Heat Exhaustion
If it’s too hot and humid out, your body’s natural cooling system may have trouble keeping up. One way to stave off heat-related illnesses like heat rash, heat exhaustion and the more-serious heat stroke is to stay well hydrated. If you’re feeling overheated, stay in the shade whenever possible, and lay off the beach volleyball. Look out for symptoms like a racing heart rate, muscle cramps, confusion, weakness or headaches.

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July!

Photo via Shutterstock

Everything You Need to Know About Skin Cancer

May 30, 2012 at 11:08 am , by

I hate to admit it, but I have a lot more in common with Tanning Bed Mom and Snooki than you might guess. They say confession is good for the soul, so I’ll just be honest: I am a recovering tanning addict.

When I was a teenager in Tampa, Florida, my friends and I tanned pretty much year round. We’d “lay out” at the first hint of summer, usually in March or earlier, and we devoted way too much time to tanning well into October and November. The Florida heat and humidity were stifling, but we would sweat through it—all in the pursuit of the perfect shade of golden brown. Of course, we got burned a lot, too.

Then tanning salons started popping up everywhere, promising the deepest tan in a lot less time, and we were hooked. Everyone did it. There weren’t any age restrictions yet, and it was a lot harder to burn in 20 minutes under the bulbs than it was in a few hours in the sun. We had no idea that those fake UVA rays from the beds were putting us at serious risk for skin cancer.

All these tan-obsessed memories came rushing back when I heard the news that melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—is on the rise, with women under 40 being the hardest hit. Between 1979 and 2009, melanoma incidence increased eightfold among young women. Many experts are attributing the increase to the popularity of tanning salons.

Thankfully, I’ve let go of my need to tan—the risks just aren’t worth it. Plus, summer is a lot more fun now that a) I don’t waste it just frying on a towel (boring!) and b) I don’t get awful burns anymore. As the long, sunny days of summer loom, here’s your essential guide to sun safety:

The Base Tan Myth
There is no such thing as a healthy tan, even for people who never burn. Besides causing wrinkles and age spots, about 65 percent of melanomas and 90 percent of nonmelanoma skin cancers are associated with sun exposure, according to The Skin Cancer Foundation.

What Happens During a Skin Check
If you’re like me, you’ve probably already done a little damage to your skin. Almost all of us have, which is why skin checks are so important. Check out the video of our health director Julie Bain getting a skin check with her dermatologist to see what it’s like, then schedule your own appointment every year.

Get the Most Out of Your Sunscreen
Grabbing a bottle of SPF 30 isn’t enough. To really protect yourself from sun damage, you need to know what’s in a product and how to apply it.

What It’s Like to Have Skin Cancer
Our health director Julie Bain knows a thing or two about skin cancer—she got her first one in her 20s and she’s had seven more removed since then. Yes, seven! Read her story here.

What Really Happens During Mohs Surgery
I used to think that if I ever got skin cancer, it’d be easy to just have it lopped off like a mole. Find out what really goes on during skin cancer surgery in our slideshow. It’s no piece of cake.

Great Sunless Tanning Products
Still craving a sun-kissed glow? Check out our roundup of the best sunless tanners.


6 Weeks to a Younger You: Week 2

August 17, 2011 at 11:45 am , by

Beautiful woman at the beach putting sunscreen on her bodyWelcome to week 2 of our plan! How’d you do with your pedometer and your colorful fruits and veggies last week? I made some progress and I’m feelin’ good. Hope you are too! So what’s on tap for this week?

You need to protect your skin from the sun (to look young and avoid skin cancer). But you need vitamin D for strong bones and maybe even to prevent cancer and heart disease. So how to do you do both? It’s a problem I’ve wrestled with.

My doctor called me a few days ago to tell me that everything on my recent blood test looked good, except one thing: I’m deficient in D. In winter, sure. But in August? Well, I avoid the sun like the plague, thanks to my history of skin cancer. That means wearing sunscreen every day, staying on the shady side of the street—and donning a hat when it’s high noon.

Yes, I take a 1,000 mg D3 supplement almost every day, and I always take it with some nuts or cheese since it’s fat soluble, to improve absorption. But apparently it’s not enough. Supplements just don’t work as well as the sun. My doc suggested I go to 2,000 mg a day—a level that most experts think is safe (although more research needs to be done). And maybe just a few unprotected minutes of sun a day on my arms and legs might be a good idea, too. But just a few!

Aren’t we all? Stress can raise your blood pressure, and so can the junky food you crave when you’re having a bad day. You know that lowering your bp can help your cardiovascular system, but here’s news: healthy blood pressure is good for your memory and brain health! High blood pressure causes no symptoms, so you’ve gotta get checked out. If you can’t see your doc right now, try out one of those drugstore kiosks where you can stick your arm in the cuff. You want to be at 120/80 or lower, and many experts say 115/75 is ideal. If you’re higher, take some deep breaths and take another reading. If it’s still high, make an appointment with your doc.

A great way to reduce stress (and your blood pressure!) is meditation. It can also improve your memory and boost your immune system. And anyone can learn it. All you have to do is sit quietly and focus on your breathing. The trick is carving out and committing to a few quiet minutes a day. I studied transcendental meditation back in the ’70s (hey, it was good enough for the Beatles!). I remember how  tough it was to learn to sit still and let go of all those busy, busy thoughts—without judging myself every time I felt I wasn’t doing it “right.” I’m going to commit to meditating for 20 minutes every day this week if you will. Cheers to a younger you!

Photo copyright goodluz—

New Sunscreen Rules: Why You Should Care

June 15, 2011 at 7:34 am , by

Closeup of beautiful woman spreading sunscreen on her shoulderFinally, the gavel has dropped on the Food and Drug Administration’s new sunscreen rules. By next year, sunscreen manufacturers will have to pass a standard test to claim broad-spectrum protection.

Dermatologists across the country are rejoicing in the streets. Okay, not exactly, but they are pretty happy that the FDA has gotten around to issuing a ruling, says Ronald Moy, M.D., president of the American Academy of Dermatology. “This has been years in the making. It’s going to make it a lot easier for consumers to find a product that they can be sure is protecting them from UVA as well as UVB rays,” he says.

I know what many of you are thinking: What’s the big deal?  That’s how I felt when I started doing research for our June story about getting the most out of your sunscreen. But I learned that finding the right product and applying it correctly is a lot more complicated than I thought.

We’re all familiar with the Sun Protection Factor, or SPF, but that only accounts for protection against UVB. While UVB rays are what cause dreadful burns, the lesser-known UVA rays penetrate deeper into your skin. Experts used to think exposure to UVB alone was what caused skin cancer, but we now know that in addition to being the main cause of wrinkles, UVA rays also play a major role in the development of skin cancer.

Until now, products could claim broad-spectrum protection without any basis for it. Maybe you didn’t leave the beach the color of a tomato, but your sunscreen may not have been shielding you from the more subtle damage caused by UVA. So in other words, this is a really big deal. And organizations like The Skin Cancer Foundation, the American Society for Dermatologic Surgery and the American Academy of Dermatology are applauding the changes.

Claims like “waterproof” or “sweatproof” are also being banned from sunscreen because those terms are inaccurate and make people feel like they don’t have to reapply, says Dr. Moy. The FDA also proposed that SPF labeling be capped at 50, since there is little evidence that those super-high SPFs work any better. “You’ll never get 100 percent coverage from a sunscreen, so these changes take away the false sense of security,” says Dr. Moy.

Companies have a year to comply with the new rules, so to save your skin this summer you’ve still got to take a look at the ingredients list. Check out “Screen Test,” our guide from the June issue, to learn what to look for in your sunscreen and how to apply it for best results.

Photo copyright goodluz,

My Whiter Shade of Pale

May 25, 2011 at 11:00 am , by

White me!After a cool, rainy spring in New York City, the clouds part, the sidewalks steam and suddenly it’s hot. And sunny. My love-hate relationship with the sun kicks in and I can’t decide if I want to turn my face up and bask in it—or shield myself and run.

All winter long my black tights, leather boots and long-sleeve sweaters were like armor. But now it’s time to reveal, once again, who I really am: a pale woman of northern European descent who doesn’t tan but burns—and gets skin cancer.

When I was young I desperately wanted to be tan and sexy like my friends who rubbed on baby oil and turned a lovely shade of mahogany. Instead, I became porcine pink, which often peeled and even blistered a few times.

When I was diagnosed with my first basal-cell carcinoma in my 20s (the first of several skin cancers to come), I had to change my thinking. I thought of Scarlett O’Hara and other literary heroines who were deemed beautiful for their creamy white skin (well, mine was more freckled and blotchy, but whatever). And I started wearing high SPF sunscreen, shopping for cute hats and directing my feet to the shady side of the street.

I’ve made peace with my whiteness, although it’s still a bit of a struggle every spring to peel off the tights and strut those alabaster legs with confidence. Or to mingle among the bronzed and sleek set (that’s me in the photo, above, last Christmas, perhaps the whitest person in Florida). But hey, I love the hat!

Seriously, though—skin cancer is on the rise, especially among younger folks. So as we head into Memorial Day weekend, think about embracing your whiteness (you know who you are!) and making sunscreens and hats a habit.

Of course, people with any color of skin can (and do) get skin cancer and need protection, too. This Friday has been deemed Don’t Fry Day by the National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention. Lots of other organizations, such as the Skin Cancer Foundation and even the Environmental Protection Agency, are supporting this day of awareness with useful info on how to protect yourself. And our story “Screen Test” in the June issue of LHJ has helpful advice on how to choose, and apply, a sunscreen that’ll work for you. Have a great summer—and save your skin!

Oh, and here’s Procol Harum’s “Whiter Shade of Pale” from 1967–one of the best songs ever!

My Place in the Sun

July 14, 2010 at 5:31 pm , by

EmotiSun with Sunglasses - 3D renderI have such a love-hate relationship with the sun. It has warmed me, helped me feel relaxed and sexy, and caused my petunias to proliferate so fast you can almost hear them grow. On the other hand, it has burned me, caused the hostas on my terrace to dry and curl up like crepe paper, and sprinkled unwanted brown spots across my white Scottish-Swedish skin. It has also given me skin cancer. Six times, to be precise, starting when I was only in my 20s.

I avoid the sun now—and I miss it. I’m envious when I see lithe, tanned young girls cavorting on the beach while I stroll in my hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and SPF 100. And I worry that I’m not getting enough vitamin D. Having low levels of this vitamin (well, actually, it’s a hormone), has been linked to a higher risk of cancer, vascular disease, infectious illnesses, autoimmune disease, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, dementia, Parkinson’s and even obesity, according to studies. And we don’t know if supplements really do the trick—or what the appropriate dose is. Read more