Saturday, March 31, 2012

Portland's first AIM at Melanoma walk, May 12

As many of you know, I had surgery to remove an early-stage melanoma in 2010. Since then, I've become an advocate for skin cancer prevention and early detection. I've made quite a few friends along the way--many of whom have participated in melanoma walks and other large fundraisers all over the country. The whole time, I've thought to myself, Wouldn't it be cool if there was a melanoma walk in Portland, Oregon? Well, guess what? This year, there is! It's happening Saturday, May 12, 2012.

Needless to say, I'm thrilled that little 'ole Portland is getting its own melanoma walk, so I've been emailing with walk's organizer. Since it's the first year, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done. If you live in Oregon or Southwest Washington, please join us on May 12 and share the event with your friends and family (the U of O duck will be there, so bring the kids, too!) Unlike other 5k races I've been doing lately, there's no fee to sign up, although you're more than welcome to make a donation. Not local? Consider sponsoring me! Even $10--the cost of one session in a tanning bed--would do wonders.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Well, duh: Young women tan despite health risks

I don't want to call out any one sorority,
so I'm leaving this purposefully vague :)
All this week my Facebook feed has been blowing up with links to a new study that was presented at the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting. Key points of the study:

- Two thirds of sorority members at a Midwestern university used tanning beds.
- 93% intentionally tanned outdoors.
- 40% had no plans on using sunscreen.
- To give perspective, 81% of young women in the U.S. (not just sorority chicks) tan outdoors and 32% have used tanning beds in the past year.

While these numbers are sobering, I can't help but to think: well, duh. I love Rich from Hotel Melanoma's reaction to the study, which he titled "The Folly of Youth":
"My initial reaction to this story was to get uppity, shake my head, and dismiss these young women as vain and vapid airheads. But then I remembered some of the high-risk behaviors I engaged in as a college student in the early 70’s, knowing they were risky but thinking I was bulletproof. I once read that the male brain doesn’t reach maturity until we reach the age of 25 or so, and until then we aren’t fully capable of rationally evaluating the potential risks and consequences of our actions. If I’m representative of my species and gender, I don’t doubt this one bit."
Whether you're male or female, Rich is right. If you're still in your teens and possibly early twenties, you can probably blame your prefrontal cortex for some of your impulsive behavior. A book I finished recently about the prefrontal cortex and decision making says:
"Brain areas that are relatively recent biological inventions--such as the frontal lobes--don't finish growing until the teenage years are over. This developmental process holds the key to understanding the behavior of adolescents, who are much more likely than adults to engage in risky, impulsive behavior. More than 50 percent of U.S. high school students have experimented with illicit drugs. Half of all reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases occur in teenagers. Car accidents are the leading cause of death for those under the age of twenty-one. These bleak statistics are symptoms of minds that can't restrain themselves." -Jonah Lehrer in How We Decide
We've all done stupid shit. When I was pledging my sorority, I did particularly stupid shit. Truth be told: if one of my sorority sisters had asked me to jump off a bridge--I would have (especially if they prepped me with a shot of SoCo and lime and told me I'd have a date for winter formal waiting for me at the bottom). College is a really tricky period of time in life. You're not a kid anymore, but you're definitely not an adult, and you're far from living in reality. For me, this was exacerbated by the fact that I want to a small, private East coast school that was heavily Greek. Everyone knew everyone else and we were all up in each others' business. Sorority girls aren't necessarily "vain and vapid airheads." Quite the opposite, actually. Some of the smartest, most intelligent women I know have been Greek, but there's a tremendous amount of peer pressure that goes on inside a sorority. Consequently, you have premeds graduating magna cum laude with eating disorders, binge drinking problems, and a propensity to line up for the tanning salon before heading to Cabo for spring break.

I think the only real way we'll be able to decrease the number of tanning bed users will be to change our perception of what's attractive. Simply knowing that tanning is dangerous will not stop sorority girls--or anyone--from sunbathing. It actually took about a year or so after I had my run-in with melanoma that I started to realize, maybe pale really is prettier after all. Friends still poke fun at me sometimes, telling me that maybe I should go outside and get some vitamin D. Six months or so after my surgery, I remember being at the lake with a group of friends, literally fuming with jealousy that they all got to lay there, soaking in the sun, returning home with tan lines and flushed cheeks. Right in front of me. Even having known me, seen my scar, and heard me complain to death about how evil the tanning salon industry is, a number of friends and acquaintances still tan. They know what can happen to them, and yet they still do it. So, really, I want to just ask everyone, what is it about the fake 'n bake that's really all that attractive? Because as long as ya'll love the Jersey Shore look, we're going to continue to see a rise in melanoma in young people.

Image: Papermag

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Finally, Jergens adds SPF to self tanner

I don't know what's taken them so long, but Jergens is finally coming out with a broad-spectrum SPF 20 version of its ├╝ber popular Natural Glow moisturizer. In my opinion, Jergens Natural Glow has revolutionized the way we think about self-tanning products. Self tanners, which use a harmless chemical called DHA to temporarily darken the top layer of your skin, are notoriously smelly and streaky. Jergens products are meant to be used daily, so they deposit just a small amount of DHA with every use. As a result, your "tan" builds gradually. Good news for those of us who have a tendency to stain our palms and look like we have a contagious skin condition when we use a more potent version.

I'm super excited to try this new "protect" version when it debuts in stores at the end of March. I'll let you know how I like it. Seriously, though, Jergens--what took you guys so long?

P.S. If you're a sucker for contests like me, sign up to win a free bottle on the Jergens Facebook page.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Unluck of the Irish

On St. Patty's day, everyone loves to be Irish. Drinking beer before noon, decorating your body with temporary shamrock tattoos (amongst other things)... what's not to love about being Irish on March 17? If only I felt the same way about my partial Irish heritage the other 364 days of the year. My mom's dad was a full-blooded Irishman. When I was a kid, I remember coming home from school, sitting with him in my grandparent's living room, telling him about what I learned at school that day. He always sat reclined in his favorite armchair. I still remember him that way: sitting in his armchair, his legs poking out from underneath a wool blanket--legs that were white to the point of translucence.

If I had to guess, I'd say my grandpa's skin tone would have been classified as Fitzpatrick Type I. The Fitzpatrick Skin Type scale is a system used by dermatologists--and by tanning salons--to determine how your skin will react to sun UV radiation. Very fair skin is classified as Type I and on the other end of the spectrum, very dark skin is classified as Type VI. Many of us Irish folk, with fair skin, light eyes, and light hair, are classified as Type I or Type II, which means we're more susceptible to sunburns. Lucky us, we're also lighter more likely to develop skin cancer.

The tanning bed industry claims that they will not sell UV tanning sessions to patrons with Fitzpatrick Type I skin. Tanning bed users with Type II or III skin, according to, should only tan up to three times per week, starting with three-minute sessions. I can tell you from experience, tanning salon operators in Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have not limited me to three times weekly, three-minute tanning bed sessions, even though my skin tone is naturally Type II. According to a study conducted by several congressional representatives which was published just last month, 51% of tanning salons denied that indoor tanning would increase a fair-skinned teenagers risk for cancer (based on a survey of 300 salons nationwide by congressional interns). Quite the opposite, actually. Four out of five salons surveyed said that tanning would actually be beneficial to a teenage girl with fair skin. Some went as far as to say that using a tanning bed would prevent cancer. Why such a discrepancy between the science, FDA regulations, claims by tanning industry lobbyists, and salon owners and operators?

Whether you're Irish or just pretending to be for the weekend, I hope you have a safe and happy St. Patrick's Day. If indeed you do have a bit o' Irish blood in you, be sure to keep slapping on the SPF, keep up with regular skin checks, and stay out of tanning salons. Call it "unluck" of the Irish, but us fair-skinned folks have a higher risk of developing melanoma and other skin cancers.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some thoughts on "curing cancer"

Cancer researchers everywhere dubbed 2011 as the year for melanoma. Two new drugs,  ipilimumab and vemurafenib, were approved by the FDA to treat advanced stages of the disease, making them the first new melanoma drugs in 13 years (that's a long time in cancer land). Just this week, MSNBC published an article called, "New melanoma drug - a turning point against cancer?" Of course, this is great news. Melanoma has been, for a long time, one of the most elusive cancers to scientists.

But (yes, there is always a but)--as news of a new melanoma drugs becomes more mainstream, I fear that the public will develop misconceptions that tanning is safe again. Although most news articles clearly state that we're still far from a cure, people seem to have great faith in the powers of science to "cure cancer" before it can hurt them. For example, when I was in college, I remember asking a fellow tanner if she ever worried about the potential side effects from UV radiation.

"We're all going to get cancer anyway," she said. "And besides, by the time I'm 80, they'll probably have a cure for cancer anyway."

"You don't worry about getting wrinkles either?"

"Um, hello. Botox?"

Years later, this conversation has stuck with me because it epitomizes the way we rationalize our use of tanning beds: "Yes, tanning can cause cancer, but it won't happen to me." Or, "Yes, tanning causes cancer, but it won't happen until I'm older." It was around the time I had this conversation that my grandfather was diagnosed with skin cancer. Years of playing golf and vacationing in warm climates wrecked havoc on his face and scalp. To this day, he's had more lesions removed than I can count on both fingers and toes. Hearing about my grandpa's run-in with skin cancer scared me, but it didn't scare me completely out of the sun. My grandpa was old. Things like that happened to old people.

From that point on, every time I laid down in that acrylic bed and pulled down the clam-shell lid, I was able to make peace with the fact that someday I too would probably be diagnosed with skin cancer. That is, if I hadn't already died from a heart attack, stroke, or breast cancer. If something was going to kill me, I thought, I might as well look beautiful and have fun while I'm young.

I never thought I would be diagnosed with melanoma less than 10 years after I started tanning. And I'm not the only one. My friends over at the Glenna Kohl Fund for Hope sent me a great article today from Providence College's The Cowl about a former teenage "tanorexic" turned melanoma prevention advocate (like me!) When I read about Megan Rothschild, I felt like I was reading about myself. In the article, Megan is quoted saying:
"In my mind, I thought 'I'm not going to get melanoma. I'm not going to get skin cancer.' People told me that I looked dark and maybe I should go get my skin checked out, but my mentality was if I was going to get cancer it would be when I was 70. At that time, I felt invincible."
I think she hits the nail right on the head there, going on to say: "There's still this conception that [melanoma] is an 'easy' cancer. It used to be most common among older men because of their habitual golfing, but it's actually becoming a young woman's cancer now."

So let's celebrate the fact that every day we're inching closer to a time when advanced-stage melanoma will no longer be a death sentence. Let's just also keep in mind that regardless of what breakthroughs come out of the labs, we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that suntanning is safe.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Yes, you can wear yellow

I've been obsessed with Ashley Greene ever since I saw her on the March cover of Lucky magazine. Apparently she's been part of the Cullen clan since 2008. She's also appeared more recently on a few episodes of Pan Am. All I have to say: this young woman is stunning. Here are a few photos from her Lucky cover shoot. Proof that even pale girls can wear yellow.

Get Ashley's look with some of these bold spring pieces.

Add a pop of color to a cream colored dress.
Belt and dress,
Mustard yellow pants,
Two-tone shoes,

Friday, March 2, 2012

Shame on you, Groupon

Sometimes Groupon's daily deals are a little off the wall (e.g. Justin Bieber singing toothbrush, discount Lasik, etc.), but I still love them. That said, it REALLY annoys me when they advertise UV tanning.

Newsflash: There's a growing body of research indicating that frequent UV exposure can evoke addictive-like behavior. So, theoretically, offering an unlimited tanning package for one month isn't all that different than selling half-priced cartons of cigarettes. Would you ever see that on Groupon? I think not. How long will it take before selling tanning packages on Groupon becomes taboo, too?