To Protect and Defend
By Mark A. Carroll
As the publisher of this newsletter, I have edited many articles discussing the importance of protecting our body’s largest organ, our skin. These articles have talked about the importance of limiting our time in the sun, the appropriate topicals to use when going out in the sun, and how to examine our skin to know when we have a problem and what to do about it. Fortunately for me, while editing those articles year after year, I discovered I needed to heed some of the warnings myself.
While visiting with a friend, he commented; “Mark, have you ever had that sore on your forehead checked?” I thought to myself, “oh, that pesky sore that just won’t go away…is it that noticeable?” My friend had a melanoma removed from the back of his neck five years earlier, so he was very cognizant of skin cancer and the consequences of not “nipping it in the bud,” as Barney Fife so often stated. Reflecting on his comment, and the two articles I had just edited for this newsletter, I decided it might be a good idea to visit my local dermatologist.
I Can’t Believe It
One visit was all it took. I was told that the pesky sore on my forehead, the one that just wouldn’t go away, was a basil cell carcinoma. I walked out of that office thinking, “cancer…me…I can’t believe it.” But, as I reflected on my lifestyle thirty years earlier, it made all the sense in the world. You see, when I was a teenager, I would compete with my friends to see who could get the best tan, the fastest. This meant spending a lot of time in the sun, slathered with lots of baby oil (ignorance is not always bliss). I remembered the times when I would peel the skin from my forehead, laughing as I attempted to peel my entire forehead with one big piece. I also remember the huge bubbles on my back and the time I spent peeling the dead skin from my shoulders. That might have seemed entertaining when I was a boy, but now I was experiencing the error of my ways.
My next visit to my Doctor couldn’t come soon enough. Now that I knew I had that nasty intruder on my body, I wanted it gone as quickly as possible. I remember being so nervous, the sweat under my arms was running down my side. The embarrassment of that faded, as they prepared me for the excision. All I could think was; “I can’t believe I have cancer. Me, the baby brother of three siblings, aren’t I supposed to be the last one to be diagnosed with something so scary?”
I’ll spare you the details of this visit to my Dermatologist. Suffice it to say, I was a very happy patient. I knew how important early detection and treatment was, and now I was experiencing that first hand. I was grateful to my friend for pointing it out to me, and thankful I had enough sense to follow the advice found in so many of the articles I had read. I was nicknamed Zorro for a few weeks, since the stitches on my head were in the shape of a Z.
Since my early recollection of Zorro from the TV series was as a man who “defends the people of the land against tyrannical officials and other villains,” I think it an appropriate, though short lived, nickname. If I can convince just one person who is living with any of the following symptoms to immediately visit their local dermatologist, then maybe I really am a “defender of the people!” Those symptoms are:
- A skin sore that bleeds easily
- A sore that does not heal
- Oozing or crusting spots in a sore
- A scar-like sore without having injured the area
- Irregular blood vessels in or around the spot
- A sore with a depressed (sunken) area in the middle
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are hoping they will eventually go away, take my word for it, they won’t. A short visit to your local dermatologist will help determine if you are dealing with something more serious than just a “pesky sore.” Basil cell skin cancer almost never spreads. But, if left untreated, it may grow into surrounding areas and nearby tissues and bone. This is most worrisome around the nose, eyes and ears.
If you have never experienced any of these symptoms and want to do your best to avoid them, it might be wise to take some preventative measures. Since it’s that time of year again, you would do well to limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., since that’s the time when Ultraviolet light is most intense. It is also wise to protect your skin by wearing hats, long-sleeved shirts, and pants. If you will be out in the sun, please use a good quality, skin healthy sunscreen:
- Apply high-quality sunscreens with an SPF rating of at least 15, even when you are only going outside for a short time.
- Apply a large amount on all exposed areas, including ears and feet.
- Use a waterproof formula.
- Look for sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB light.
- Apply at least thirty minutes before going outside, and re-apply frequently, especially after swimming.
- Use sunscreen in winter, too. Protect yourself even on cloudy days.
Internal Sun Protection
In addition to protecting your skin from the outside, there are a variety of nutrients you can take that will amplify the protective benefits of your skin from the inside, vitamins C, E, and A. These vitamins happen to be great antioxidants. That means they can neutralize those free radicals and prevent them from doing any harm. So, while sunscreen protects you from the outside in, vitamins protect you from the inside out. What’s more, taking vitamins A, C and E can help repair damage that’s already been done. Vitamins can’t take the place of sunscreen, but they can give you additional protection. For the very best protection, make it a point to use both.
Now that you have read this article and have gotten to know me a little better, do us both a favor and take a good look at your largest organ, your skin. It’s one of the few that you can examine on your own. Use a hand held mirror if needed, while standing in front of your bathroom mirror, to view hard to see areas. Or, better yet, make an appointment to visit your local Dermatologist. What seems a slight inconvenience might turn out to be the best thing you’ve done for yourself in a long, long time.
Mark A. Carroll is the Executive Editor ofDeveloping Healthy Habits™. For the past 18 years, Mark has focused on a well written and clearly presented newsletter that is devoted to empowering individuals to make educated decisions related to their health and wellness.
Mark decided from the beginning that he did not want “infomercials” in his publication. He knew that, if a reader was to trust the information printed, it must be from a third party and not someone specifically trying to “sell” something. He has stuck to that plan since the first edition.
Sunshine Haze. Kimberly Day. DHH July, 2005