Monday, July 1, 2013

The one place I’m not healthy really hurt me

I try to be vigilant when it comes nutrition. I’m conscious of ingredients and sourcing when it comes to what I eat, what I suggest my client’s eat and of course what the boys and Marc eat. I love to cook and exercise most days. If you’re getting annoyed as I toot my own horn, I’m just trying to make myself feel better. You see there’s one place I’m not as careful and that’s with sun exposure.

Growing up, there was a fair amount of beach time. I swear, I don’t remember sunblock ever used. As a teenager, there were tanning beds (I know) and sunbathing and later runs in blazing heat without sun protection (justified by saying it gets in my eyes and burns). So, last summer when I noticed a mark on the side of my nose, I asked my dermatologist about it. He dismissed it saying, “that doesn’t look like anything dangerous”. It was close to where my sunglasses press on my nose so I chalked this little red circle up to tight glasses. However, even after I switched glassese it continued to get red.

Last month mid-treatment my facialist said, “I really don’t think it’s anything but this mark shouldn’t still be here.” She had me promise to see the doctor before my next visit. I thought about Erin who was initially dismissed by her doctor and booked my appointment.

My doctor looked at the mark, now larger, and said “I still don’t think it looks worrisome but I’m going to biopsy it to be sure.” He did and frankly I forgot about it. I felt responsible for having seen the doctor but I got caught up in getting the boys off to camp. I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office with my younger son when the phone rang. My doctor had the results and said “it’s skin cancer but it’s called basal cell and it’s not life threatening. You’re a very healthy person but this is from sun exposure 20 or more years ago. I’d like you to come in and discuss treatment options.” I hurried off the phone and did what any person in total denial would. I saw my son’s doctor, went off to lunch with a friend and her boys, business as usual.  It was only when we walked through Central Park, after lunch, and the sun hit my face (and felt good) that I remembered the news. My lifelong relationship with the sun had to change for good.

As we head into the July 4th holiday please give sun protection more thought. I asked Kathy from Beauty Palette and Joanna Vargas (who I am so indebted to) for their advice.

Kathy has one of my favorite blogs and I was relieved when she started her email with
“I've become pretty obsessive over sunscreen recently (I was very irresponsible with tanning beds in my youth and am trying to make up for lost time)” Kathy sorted out sunscreen labels below:

Most people are aware that they should be avoiding chemical sunscreens (with ingredients such as octinoxate, parabens and phthalates). However, what I've noticed is that people assume that as long as they are using zinc oxide and titanium dioxide they're safe. While they are definitely better than your typical chemical sunscreens, titanium dioxide particles are quite small and can be absorbed into the bloodstream. To be completely safe, opt for a sunscreen that ONLY uses non-nano zinc oxide as its sole active ingredient. 

The issue with using non-nano zinc is that they usually leave you white because of the larger particle size, so some crafty companies try and mask that issue by using silicones (any ingredient ending in "-cone"). While silicones haven't been proven to be toxic or anything, they tend to make my skin a little more breakout prone. Be EXTREMELY thorough with your nighttime cleansing. Silicones are quite difficult to wash off.

Kathy’s picks
MV Organics Face Screen having a tint definitely helps offset the white cast
Sun Integrity Face Sunscreen I am currently using this and yes it has silicones in it but this specific formulation hasn't given me any problems
Graydon Sun Cream this one is not tinted, but has gotten great reviews (Lauren here noting this one has sea buckthorn oil it, love that).
Honest Sunscreen this one is on the thicker side, rub in well, great for outdoor or sport use. 

Joanna’s picks
I like the Eminence Organics 30 SPF powders I sell because you can reapply throughout the day and they can go over makeup
Fallene makes a 58 SPF that's great for vacations. It's a little white, but not too bad. I use it on my body too.
Also a great line of SPF is Organic Pharmacy. They are sold at New London Pharmacy on 8th Avenue. Awesome place for trying European brands by the way. 

During the day I like to layer the sun protection. 
 I use my own Daily Hydrating Cream (has SPF 20), then tinted moisturizer, then the powder.

Joanna concluded by saying "also a must is a hat and sunglasses. They add another layer of protection."And Kathy added “I know the price point isn't exactly low for these, but it is hard to find a sunscreen that keeps you safe, does it job and doesn't make you look like Casper so in my very humble opinion, I think it's worth the extra money. And one last reminder, I literally don't know a single person who reapplies their sunscreen as much as they should - myself included.”

Sun protection isn’t only about creams and powders. Certain foods are helpful when it comes to sun exposure and protection (in addition to topical protection)
Walnuts, Salmon and other foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are shown to have a role in preventing non-melanoma skin cancer. Green tea, specifically the polyphenols in green tea prevents skin cancer by enhancing DNA repair. Flavanols in dark chocolate are photo protective (I’m patting myself on the back for the cacao/bourbon popsicles we made this weekend). And cruciferous vegetables such as kale, broccoli, cabbage, arugula and radishes protect you from sun damage as well.
Just one more reason to eat a diet rich in these foods.

I opted for treatment that includes removal of the lesion (later this month) followed my 2 weeks of a cream that attacks the “foreign” cells. I should be red (and perhaps ugly) but I’ll have 80-90% cure rate. And I’m going to be better about the sun.
What is your sun protection routine like? Have you been to the dermatologist lately? How often do you reapply sunblock? What can you do to be safer when it comes to the sun?


  1. fullbellysistersJuly 1, 2013 at 4:40 AM

    So glad you caught it early! My father has had numerous skin cancers—all types, including melanoma—which helps me to be more vigilant with my own skin care...

  2. Hey Justine- miss you. Sorry about your dad. I have to say for some reason, skin cancer was abstract to me, perhaps intentionally. It isn't any longer and I have to be better, not sure when we're in a tropical location but every day. Any brands/specific products you like?

  3. Thanks Gina, now sure I was smart, I was way to quick to take the doctors advice and postpone going back. Eek. I guess, like you, all I can do is do better going forward. It's not going to be easy to find a hat for my large head, ha.

  4. So glad you got it checked out!! A tan isn't worth cancer OR wrinkles (it's okay to be vain right?) but most people aren't thinking long-term when they are out in the sun.

  5. It's not AT ALL but if I'm being honest, I like a tan. I know I sound like I'm tanorexic but bronzer will do. You really were in my head when I went back to the doctor and he totally backpedaled about what he said initially.

  6. Oh Julie, I didn't know about the melanoma. Wow. SPF clothing in general or when you are workout out/out in the sun? I am so much better with my boys' sun protection (I am only negligent with myself).

  7. I have a face cream with SPF (though I didn't know until Joanna mentioned it) that is on daily, now to be better about the body. Let's try to get you off the chemicals- don't need parabens to prevent cancer, right?

  8. fullbellysistersJuly 1, 2013 at 11:49 AM

    I know, you haven't been showing up in my feed—damn FB algorithms! Anyway, i use the EWG sunscreen ratings each year to decide which sunscreens i'll buy each summer. In the past, we have had good luck with California Baby and Badger.

  9. Thank you for sharing. After reading this, I made an appointment with my dermatologist, because I have a spot on my face I've been avoiding. Like you, I spent my youth in the sun without even thinking of sunscreen. I'm more diligent now, but who knows what's lurking. I'm so glad you caught this early!!!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story - this is SUCH a good reminder. I am also trying to make up for my youthful sun indiscretions by vigilantly applying sunscreen and routinely checking those freckles that I know are the result of sun damage. :/

    I LOVE this list of foods that offer sun protection! Food is definitely the best medicine.

    A request - can you share your cacao/bourbon popsicle recipe? :)

  11. I was rather careless about the sun - very dumb as my mom has skin and now breast cancer - but then I went to Malaysia and didn't wear sunscreen and now have a serious pigmentation problem. I learned a little too late.

    Glad that you are not in any danger Lauren. To me your skin is flawless!

    PS: Sorry for the run on sentence...

  12. Ameena pretty close contest for what I'm more careless about sun or grammar so no worries about the sentence. It's not too late, let's be more responsible now. And that you for skin praise, all I see is that circle so it's a nice reminder.

  13. Julie Abrams RosenblumJuly 2, 2013 at 4:10 AM

    Lauren- thank you for sharing this. I am so glad that you are ok and it sounds like you are in the right hands. I live with skin cancer on a daily basis and it isn't fun stuff. It is actually very scary. I always dread the phone call after the biopsy because I know they are ready to start cutting on me and my cancer is on sun exposed areas - legs and arms. I am totally crazy about my face. I wear a SPF 30 daily cream, base with SPF 15 and in the summer another heavy SPF with a hat always. I am always on the hunt for a good body lotion that has SPF in it so I am going to check out the picks. My body is a roadmap from what skin cancer can do to a person. It ain't pretty.

  14. Jan @ Sprouts n SquatsJuly 2, 2013 at 5:16 AM

    Not good at all! I don't run with sunscreen at the moment but you've inspired me to invest in some properly.

  15. Great Jan and non-chemically don't hurt your eyes...please wear it.

  16. I know you relate Julie, let me know how your testing goes, ha ha maybe a follow up to the deo blog.

  17. This is a really good time for a reminder like this. I agree that almost no one re-applies sunscreen as much as they should, and I would add that probably not many people use enough as they should for proper coverage (myself included on both counts). I never go outside without sunscreen on my face (I use a moisturizer with SPF for this reason), summer and winter. But I went for a run outside last weekend and came back with some faint tan lines on my back so that was a good reminder for me.

    At the beach/pool, I usually try to spend most of my time under an umbrella or shady tree, but I really do need to re-apply more often. As a teenager I was like you, a sun worshipper, I would actually slather on baby oil and go out in the sun, desperate for a tan! Now I have the brown spots on my shoulders from several sunburns to show for it. No dermatological problems so far, but it does show that it certainly wasn't good for me.

  18. This may be my favorite blog post of yours. Unfortunately, it was sparked by a BCC on YOUR lovely face! So glad you listened to your facialist (who sounds very good) and your gut. A good friend's mom is currently dying of metastatic melanoma so in her honor I went to the dermatologist two weeks ago. I actually had a stage zero melanoma 10 years ago and should be much more diligent. My dermatologist recommended La Roche-Posay Anthelios 40 spf with Mexoryl. It makes me look like casper. I am going to try some of your suggestions.

    Also, a great lesson....SPEAK UP AT THE DOCTOR'S OFFICE! I have been humbled more then once by a patient who said "I am worried about this." You know your body and you especially know your children. Just don't ask for an MRI in the ER on a Sunday night for a chronic issue :-)

  19. Thanks Melanie, my face will be fine. I love a fun blog post but I also think we need to remind each other that as well as we eat or take care of ourselves we need you doctors to jump in and help. You can't do that if we don't come to you, right? Thank you for the doctor's take. I have learned so much about food/nutrition from clients saying "when I eat this food I have bad dreams" or other cases where they bring up something I don't know/had never heard. Happy 40th, 40 with a baby looks pretty friggin amazing. If my 40 is healthy I'll take it, age schmage.

  20. Thanks Jen, all you reformed sun people are making me feel like I wasn't the only foolish one. Maybe we need an SPF reminder on our phones or something "reapply or else".

  21. I will share the popsicle recipe for sure (in July sorry for suspense) I reworked an existing recipe. And yes, maybe beach menus should include all of these foods...wouldn't that be nice?

  22. Thank you for posting about this—a lot of people seem to forget that skin cancer can impact pretty much anybody. Wishing you a speedy recovery!

    Because of my awesome genetics, since I was really young, I've had to go to regularly to get suspicious things cut off and I try to always remember sunscreen. Luckily, I've been cancer free so far, but I had a big scare last year when my doctor found a pre-cancerous mole on my chest. She explained it was more genetic than sun-related but I still had to get it cut out (out is way worse than off!)—as well as quite a few mm around it. I have a nice scar now that's a daily reminder not to f*** around with my skin. I was totally rocking spf 70 at the beach last weekend.

  23. Catherine CliffordJuly 3, 2013 at 10:12 AM

    Thanks Kathy! Marie Veronique Organics is running a sunscreen promo for the 4th! Great time to try the sunscreen + face oil!

  24. Great post Lauren and thanks for sharing up experience. I was a tanning queen in high school and college, but also used to run a lot, and most often without sunscreen :-(. I am writing this in Hawaii, and although I will be wearing sunscreen and seeking the shade, it's so hard to avoid sun when you are active. I had a basal cell cancer removed about 8 years ago, and have had several "atypical" moles removed-all non-cancerous, but it definitely ups my risk for melanoma, so I am good about wearing sunscreen, but don't always avoid the chemical kinds. I'm definitely going to try some of the sunscreens on use list. Also, did you know caffeine is thought to be protective against basal cell cancer? I know you like coffee too, so drink up!

  25. Thanks so much for sharing this, it almost seems tanorexia is something to be proud of nowadays. That couldn't have been a good day for you, but your plan seems rock solid and I wish you a quick recovery! Had the same thing happen to someone in my family last year, she had the lesion removed and is all better! But it served as a reality check for me. I've been trying to fix my cosmetic routine, get better products but I find it overwhelming. Thanks for the suggestions!