The leaves have fallen, the temperatures have dropped, and many of us have had to bust out the snow shovels already. The onset of winter is inevitable. However, on those magical days when the sun prevails, our desire to be outside helps give us the determination to bundle up in order to do so. But do we always have the discipline to make sure and consider sun protection during these chillier times?
If I personally were to answer that question, I would say no, not always. But I would also say that since starting medical school and deciding to go into dermatology, I have come to appreciate the adverse and cumulative affects of the sun on our skin. I have also been lucky enough to work with several amazing dermatologists and read some good literature on what to look for and how to protect oneself properly from the scarier side of the sun. Thus I wanted to pass on some of these tips and tidbits in the hopes of helping all of us become more vigilant in guarding our largest organ.
#1) The SPF quandry. The minimum SPF used should be 30. Higher SPF’s offer slightly more protection but make sure you are at least applying a 30. If you are the facial moisturizer type, it is wise to buy something with a built-in SPF. For women, if you use foundation, many also have built-in SPF’s, and those are also recommended. In the case of the face, more is better.
#2) The application process. The best thing you can do for your skin is to reapply sunscreen every 1.5-2 hours. Surely you jest! No. And don’t call me Shirley (name that movie). Yes, that’s the recommendation, but it is not always the reality. So, when you get up in the morning, put a layer on before your breakfast and then a layer on the exposed areas after you lycra-up. This gives you a nice double dose and perhaps avoids the lower-back-band-burn that we have all received at one point in time while riding. Also don’t forget that swimming essentially washes away even the most water-proof sunscreens. So, give yourself another layer post pool.
#3) The tried and true A.B.C.D.’s. At the chronological point in life when we advance from adolescence to adulthood, we should essentially stop growing new moles. If new moles do show up, no need to panic, just remember you’re a.B.C.D.’s. A is for asymmetry, something you do not want in a mole. Ideally you should be able to fold the mole in half and have it match. B is for borders. Good moles have good, clean borders. Potentially harmful moles have irregular or ragged borders. C is for color. You want moles that are both evenly and uniformly colored for the most part. D is for diameter. Anything that appears to be growing in diameter warrants further investigation.
#4) Check yourself, so you don’t wreck yourself. It is a really good idea to get in the habit of doing a purposeful once-a-month scan of your own skin. Get familiar with what’s always been there versus what may be something new. For those hard to see places, find a friend to help identify trouble spots. The back is the place for highest incidence of skin cancers in men, and the back of the legs is the place for highest incidence of skin cancers in women. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
#5) Even where the sun doesn’t shine? Oh yes, look where the sun doesn’t shine. This includes feet, tops and bottoms, and your actual bottom (creases and cracks included). Skin cancers don’t discriminate. Also be aware of spots that appear to be in the nail (feet or hands). Make sure a spot in the nailgrows out with the nail. Otherwise have it looked at immediately. Poor Bob Marley died of complications from a melanoma that began in his nail.
I would venture to guess that most of you who take the time to read this article are as good at the D3s of skin (*Dutifully apply a good layer of SPF 30 sunscreen *Diligently check your skin for any new spots that may meet the A.B.C.D.’s *Don’t ignore those areas where the sun doesn’t shine) as you are at being a D3 athlete. If not, perhaps now’s the time to start implementing the D3’s of the skin so that when summer rolls around you will be well-trained to conquer both the racing scene as well as the effects of the sun.
Cathy Koger is an accomplished ironman triathlete who set her P.R. this year at Ironman Canada. In 2006 she won the 5430 Long Course Series in Boulder CO. Currently Cathy is a 4th year medical student applying to dermatology for residency. She lives in Boulder with her husband Ivy and running partner Haley, the greyhound.