How Docs Protect Themselves from Skin Cancer
Because the pros know about smart routines and ingredients, we asked them how they shield themselves from the sun’s rays.
Frauke Neuser, Ph.D., Olay principal scientist
Trust in vitamin B3: Neuser has been involved in cutting-edge science and products for brands like Olay for 18 years. And she has worn a moisturizer with SPF every day of it. Her must-have ingredient, other than sunscreen: niacinamide (aka vitamin B3). Among its superpowers, the vitamin can increase the skin's natural defense against UV rays, research shows. In one of Olay's studies, for example, women who applied lotion with niacinamide daily for two weeks and were exposed to an average amount of UV rays showed less damage compared with those using a placebo cream. "We know niacinamide strengthens the skin barrier and boosts cell metabolism and energy, all of which the skin needs to protect and repair itself," she says.
Relax, a little: As a surfer, Neuser applies thick water-resistant mineral sunscreen and is obsessive about reapplying. But regular workdays are a one-and-done approach. "Olay did a study a few years ago that looked at what happened to an application of SPF 15 during a normal indoor workday," she says. "After eight hours, it was still an SPF 15. Unless you're sweating or wiping your face, it doesn't weaken."
A handy tip: "I keep a bottle of sunscreen by the door and rub it on my hands before I leave," she says. "When you drive, your face isn't always exposed, but hands on the steering wheel are-and they can show the most sun damage."
The Skin Cancer Specialist
Deborah Sarnoff, M.D., president of the Skin Cancer Foundation and clinical professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine
The naked truth: A reformed sun worshipper, Dr. Sarnoff "lost her appetite" for tanning after watching skin cancer surgery in medical school. Now you'll find her under a big hat and coated in sunscreen, which she swears by applying in the buff. "It's easy to miss spots if you're trying not to get it on your clothes," she says. "After a shower, I'll think about what I'm going to wear and what will be exposed, then I apply where needed before I get dressed." (Related: Why You Should Get a Skin Cancer Screening at the End of Summer)
Go for a hint of tint: For her body, Dr. Sarnoff likes lightweight lotions with chemical UV filters because she finds them easier to rub in. "I tell my patients to use whatever sunscreen they like the smell and feel of because it won't do any good if they can't stand it and don't wear it." But for her face, she opts for lotion with zinc oxide, a powerful physical blocker. (Related: Does Natural Sunscreen Hold Up Against Regular Sunscreen?) Her tip: Get one that's tinted. While zinc-based lotions can leave skin a bit chalky, tinted formulas are like BB creams-they protect and even out skin in one step.
Fill in the holes: Dr. Sarnoff doesn't leave home without a pair of sunnies, which offer protection for the eyes and the skin around them. That's key: A University of Liverpool study found that when people apply sunscreen to their face, they miss 10 percent of skin on average-often around the eyes. Considering that a whopping 5 to 10 percent of all skin cancers occur on eyelids, you need the protection. (More on that here: Did You Know That You Can Get Skin Cancer On Your Eyelid?) Lips are another area prone to developing basal and squamous cell carcinomas (two of the most common forms of skin cancer), yet one study found that 70 percent of beachgoers-even those who had applied sunscreen elsewhere-weren't wearing lip protection. Dr. Sarno likes an opaque lipstick because, unlike gloss, it acts as a de facto physical blocker.
The Skin-of-Color Expert
Diane Jackson-Richards, M.D., director of the Multicultural Dermatology Clinic at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit
Do the daily rundown: Dr. Jackson-Richards checks herself for signs of skin cancer-dark spots and abnormal moles or growths-almost every day. "Just look in the mirror when you brush your teeth," she says. (It's worthwhile, when you consider that the majority of basal cell carcinomas occur on the head and neck regardless of skin tone.) But once every four months, she gets out a hand mirror and stands in front of a full-length mirror or sits on the bed to look everywhere-her back, her thighs, everywhere. Research shows that although those with darker skin tones have a lower incidence of skin cancer, the survival rate is worse because diagnosis usually comes at later stages. So it's important to screen yourself regularly and ag suspect spots for your dermatologist.
Aim high: Dr. Jackson-Richards uses an SPF 30 lotion on most days but pushes it to 50 or even 70 when outdoors for longer periods. "There's debate about whether you need an SPF that high, but I think it ensures a bit more protection," she says. Research suggests that most people don't apply a thick enough layer of sunscreen; choosing a high SPF provides some insurance that you'll be well protected even if you skimp.
Way to spray: Dr. Jackson-Richards prefers sunscreen lotions, but if she's using a spray-they are convenient, she says-then she takes extra care while applying. "I'll spray it on and then use my hands to rub it in to make sure I haven't missed a spot."
The Health Psychologist
Jennifer L. Hay, Ph.D., researcher specializing in melanoma and attending psychologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City
Go beyond sunscreen: "I don't over-rely on sunscreen," says Hay, whose father died of melanoma when she was 7. "There's a misconception that if you use sunscreen well, you can stay out and be safe." The truth: Even high SPFs let through about three percent of the sun's carcinogenic rays-and that's assuming you apply sunscreen correctly. So Hay relies more on clothing, hats, and planning. As much as possible, she schedules her days to avoid direct sun when it's most risky: from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Remember, sun is sun: Whether you're at the park, at a baseball game, or out jogging, remind yourself that you're getting the same sun that you would at the beach or a pool. Hay's trick to ensure she's protected: "I keep bottles of sunscreen everywhere-at home, in the car, in my gym bag, in my purse. It's difficult to forget to apply or reapply because I've overplanned."
Heed the power of the rays: When Hay was growing up, her mother made sure she was diligent about sun protection. But as a teen, "I had some lapses I regret now," she says. It haunts her still because of the potential consequences: Getting just five bad burns between ages 15 and 20 increases melanoma risk by 80 percent. Because she has seen the devastating effects of skin cancer both in her personal life and at work, she never underestimates the dangers of the sun. "A lot of people think skin cancer is not serious and that they can just get it removed," she says. The reality: "Melanoma is difficult to treat beyond stage 1, and it's very common in young people," she says. (FYI, here's how often you should really visit your derm to get checked for skin cancer.) According to the most recent data from the American Academy of Dermatology, melanoma is the second most common form of cancer in women ages 15 to 29. Information like that is enough to make anyone run for cover.