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We’ve recently had Maria, a new mama and one half of the sister duo, @spinach4breakfast come in for her routine skin cancer screening with Iris Looi, PA-C. We chat a very close call, skin changes during pregnancy, what to look for in an SPF (for mom and baby) and why skin screenings are life savers!
“I grew up with the type of skin that tans easily and doesn’t burn. I used SPF because my mother told me to,” says Maria. “I wouldn’t reapply and didn’t really understand the importance of SPF then,” she says. “Now, as a mother of a 9-month-old and because I experienced a close call five years ago, I am much more diligent about my sunscreen use.”
Maria scheduled an appointment at Russak Dermatology Clinic when she experienced peeling on her nose. “The top of my nose kept peeling and healing and then peeling again and I got worried,” says Maria. “Dr. Russak took a look and diagnosed it as precancerous. Thank God I came in for a diagnosis and quickly lasered it off. Not sure what the outcome would have been if I had delayed it.”
Iris Looi, PA-C explains the nose is actually a very common area for skin cancers since it extends out and gets more exposure to the sun. “We’re looking for melanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancers during a routine check,” says Iris Looi, PA-C. “Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are grouped together in the nonmelanoma category. Those precancerous spots treated on Maria’s nose are a precursor to nonmelanoma skin cancer. If left untreated, they can become squamous cell carcinoma,” she says. “An average of 4.3 million basal cell carcinomas are diagnosed every year and about 1 million squamous cell carcinomas are diagnosed as well – both of which can be easily detected during a skin check.”
Nonmelanoma skin cancers are often the product of cumulative sun damage over periods of time. “Intermittent sun exposure like bad burns even if once a year can dramatically increase the risk of getting these skin cancers,” says Iris Looi, PA-C. “A lot of my patients are snowbirds and I like to get them in and scan for any possible worrisome skin lesions regularly,” she says. “There is a long latency period between the time you do the damage and the time it shows up on your skin. The damage appears in the form of freckles, non-healing lesions and changing moles. I reiterate to patients that the best SPF is really your skin cancer screening for early detection,” she says.
Statistics show that melanoma is the third most common cancer found in women under the age of forty-nine; preceded only by breast and thyroid cancers. Iris explains women often neglect using sunscreen on exposed legs during summer which is why the legs are the most common area for women to develop melanoma. “It’s hot out, and we’re out and about in shorts and skirts. We may remember to apply sunscreen to the entire body before we leave the house but rarely do we remember to reapply throughout the day,” says Iris Looi, PA-C. Fortunately, in Maria’s case, the moles on her legs are not melanoma. “Funny enough, I’ve had the least amount of sun exposure I’ve ever had during my pregnancy and since little Luca was born,” says Maria. “I’ve never, for example, experienced melasma like I do now on my face or had as many freckles and moles on my legs,” she says.
Melasma is often called “the mask of pregnancy” due to hormonal fluctuations and changes in the deposit of pigment to the skin. Cheeks, forehead and the upper-lip area are common areas where melasma is prevalent in pregnant women. “Pregnancy is a time for growth,” says Iris Looi, PA-C. “As the fetus grows, other things grow such as moles on our skin which is why moles were developed on Maria’s legs during pregnancy. Our moles and areas of the skin can get darker even – it’s quite the phenoma,” she says. “Again, I can’t press enough on the importance of applying sunscreen twenty minutes before leaving the house and reapplying every 2-3 hours to protect and preserve the skin regardless of age or stage in life,” says Iris.
As for what to look for in an SPF, Iris advises looking for two specific ingredients. “If you pick up sunscreen and find that it has a laundry list of ingredients, put it back,” says Iris Looi, PA-C. “What you want is a physical sunscreen containing zinc and titanium dioxide – only – which sit on the surface of the skin and reflect the UV radiation away,” she says. “Go-to brands I recommend for kids are California Baby and Blue Lizard and for mamas, I recommend Elta MD clear.
“I now know it’s so important to take a preventative approach. This is the first summer that Luca will be spending lots of time outside at the park. I’d like to feel assured he’s really protected,” says Maria. “And having the guidance of the providers at Russak Dermatology really puts me at ease.”
For more on skin checks at RDC click here