Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Things that make me happy

I know I can be super whiny, especially when it comes to tanning beds and skin cancer. Instead of standing up on my soapbox or going on another rant, today I thought I'd share a few things with you that make me smile. Cheers!

Note the "for lease" sign on what used to be a tanning salon.
If only they'd all just go away...
I usually get sick of a nail polish color even before it starts to
chip. Not the case with Essie's Too Too Hot. I swear I've used
half a bottle of the stuff since May.
Found this while flipping through a magazine recently. In
response to "what do you love about yourself," this woman
responded: "In LA, everyone is obsessed with tan skin, but
I embrace my porcelain complexion because it makes me
stand out from the crowd." Amen sister.
Emma Stone is my hero and Ryan Gosling is a dream boat.
'Nuff said.

Enjoy the rest of your week!

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Cancer can't be cute, right?

Amy's melanoma. Not what you'd expect, right?
A few weeks ago, I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed when this image caught my eye. It was posted by Amy Harris Parks, a stage I melanoma survivor who had a similar tumor depth as me. Amy's caption said: "My melanoma. Just a small freckle changing colors and had a slight haze around it. Not all melanomas are BIG, BLACK, and SCARY! Please protect your skin!"

Amy has generously allowed me to share her picture because, unfortunately, I never thought to take one of my own. People often ask me: "How did you know you had skin cancer? How did you know when to go to the dermatologist?" Truth is, I didn't really know until I had a biopsy that my mole was cancerous. Like Amy's, it wasn't big, black, or scary. The only reason why I even went to a dermatologist to have my skin looked at was because I has a history of using tanning beds, and there were a few freckles or moles that had popped up as a result of all the UV exposure (one of those "new" moles ended up being malignant).

A few months before I had the malignant mole biopsied, I asked the guy I was dating: "Do you think this mole is ugly? Do you think I should get it removed?"

"No," he said, "I think it looks cute." Cute? How can cancer be cute?

Last month, the Huffington Post did an article on a survey that suggests nearly half of us don't know how to spot a cancerous mole. This is a frightening statistic because early detection is key in preventing skin cancer-related deaths. The Skin Cancer Foundation has some great information about self-exams on their website, but I also encourage you to see a doctor if you notice any changes in freckles or moles. And remember: it doesn't need to be big and black to be deadly.

How did you find your melanoma? I'd love to hear. Also, if you have any questions for Amy, leave a comment below and she'd be happy to answer them!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Spray tans might be bad for you now, too

Woman getting a spray tan.
My mom has been asking me about this for years--but there have literally been no new studies since the 1970s on the safety of DHA (dihydroxyacetone), the active ingredient in most sunless tanning products.

Earlier this week, ABC News did an investigative report that I absolutely frickin' loved! This may come as a surprise to some--I do occasionally use a DHA-based moisturizer before running around in a bikini--but I'm glad that someones finally digging a little deeper and trying to learn more about how DHA interacts with human cells. The report also bashes on the tanning bed industry, which as you know, is one of my favorite pastimes.

In summary: The scientists ABC quoted were heavily concerned by DHA being applied as a spray rather than a lotion. For those of you who have never gotten a Mystic, or spray, tan, they basically shut you in a box and mist you with a really stinky spray for about a minute. It doesn't take very long, but it's not uncommon to feel like you're gagging or choking on the spray. (To me, it seems like that's how you'd feel if you were an ant getting bug bombed.)

While topical application of DHA was approved by the FDA back when my mom was a teenager, according to ABC News:
"The FDA told ABC News it never could have envisioned the chemical's use in spray tan back in the 1970s, and says 'DHA should not be inhaled or ingested"' today. It tells consumers on its website, 'The use of DHA in 'tanning' booths as an all-over spray has not been approved by the FDA, since safety data to support this use has not been submitted to the agency for review and evaluation.'"
So basically, by bombarding our lungs and eyes with this chemical version of DHA, we could be putting ourselves at risk for developing cell abnormalities (a.k.a. cancer). Of course, topical application of sunless tanning products gets attacked, too. New research insights indicate that DHA may penetrate more deeply than we once thought, which means more research needs to be done to determine the costs and benefits of spray tans versus the real thing.

Now, onto my favorite part. I love it when the media does undercover investigations of tanning salons because the results are always the same: mass noncompliance with basic, federal safety recommendations. For example, even though spray tanners are supposed to cover their eyes while they're in the booth, nine out of 12 salons in the report did not have protective eye wear available. Same deal with nose and mouth guards. Apparently, many tanning salon owners are also told that DHA is so healthy, you could drink it! Yum. Mind you, these are the same folks who told me, a melanoma survivor, that UV tanning won't cause cancer.

Essentially, this report affirms several things I've been preaching over the past few months:

1. Stay the heck away from tanning salons. Even if you're not UV tanning, you're still supporting a $5 billion industry that's more concerned with making a profit than it is with your health. Plus, tanning salon operators are trained to sell. While spray tanning before a vacation two years ago, the guy at the front desk tried to sell me a "tanning cocktail" package, which means you do 10 minutes in a UV bed before you go in for your spray tan. Perhaps he just couldn't read English because it explicitly said on my client information card: History of skin cancer.

2. Love your natural skin color! This is a hard one, I know, but if think of how much safer we'd be if we shunned tanning beds of all types--UV and UV-free. Funny story: At a fundraiser earlier this spring, I was having a conversation with a woman about my experience with melanoma. I gave her the rundown about how I used to use tanning beds, but now I've become diligent about sun protection. Her reaction? "Well, at least you can still spray tan." Yes, of course I can still spray tan, but I think she missed the point.

3. Think of sunless tanners as a “nicotine patch” for tanning beds. Despite everything it says in the ABC News report—that DHA has some potential side effects—UV radiation has proven risks. If you’ve got a wedding coming up, opt for an  airbrush tanning session instead of using a UV bed twice a week for the next eight weeks. If the thought of going to the beach without a tan gives you nightmares, use a little Jergens Natural Glow. Just don’t skimp on the SPF, and don’t become one of those people whose palms become perma-orange from self-tanning cream.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Little miss sunscreen

Happy Friday everyone! First and foremost, I'm excited to share an article I wrote for a new, local magazine called Womyncentric. You can view a PDF version of my article, "Here comes the sun(screen)" on their website. Please share!

Now, what the article doesn't address: As I wrote (on a Greyhound bus), I was so preoccupied by all the benefits of wearing sunscreen (um, hello, have you seen this picture??) that I failed to address the negatives. My editor responded with some very valid questions: Because many sunscreens use chemicals to protect us from UV radiation, could using sunscreen be doing more harm than good?

I didn't know the answer, so I turned to melanoma expert Dr. Sancy Leachman from the University of Utah. Dr. Leachman helped put my mind--and my editor's--to ease by providing the following insights:

Tons and tons and TONS of studies (cellular, molecular, animal, human, epidemiological) all indicate that sunscreen is effective in preventing non-melanoma skin cancers. She believes UVA/UVB sunscreen is also effective in preventing melanoma, there's just less data out there to support it. Conversely, studies that show sunscreen is bad are still very limited.

If you have concerns about using products with artificial chemicals, she recommends using sunscreens that contain only physical blockers, like zinc oxide: "Zinc oxide has been used for generations on baby's bottoms for diaper rash and is even an additive in some of our packaged foods. I think any major problem with use of zinc oxide would have been discovered by now, so I am putting zinc oxide on my kids to prevent sunburn!"

But what if all you've got is a bottle of Neutrogena? Dr. Leachman said, "If the choice is to use a chemical sunscreen or burn, then I still think the benefit of the sunscreen outweighs the risk."

Somewhat serendipitously, only days after this conversation, I started chatting with Kourtney from Kourtney just published an eBook about making the switch from products with harsh chemicals to more natural alternative ones. I felt like it must be a sign from the universe that I should not only be wearing sunscreen, but thinking more about the type of sunscreen that I'm putting on my body. I highly recommend checking out Kourtney's blog (and her eBook!) We may even get together before the end of the summer and make our own batch of zinc oxide-based sunscreen. I'll be keeping you all in the loop. In the meantime, I'd love to know if you have any favorite sun protection products. Please share with me below!

Friday, June 1, 2012

How much can change in four years?

Embracing my inner tourist outside the Met in NYC.
What a crazy couple of weeks it's been! Last Monday, I flew to Alexandria, Virginia for work. While I was on the East coast, I figured I'd stay and visit with friends from college, which took me from DC to Philly, Philly to NYC, NYC to Westhampton, and then finally back to Portland from DC. My two cents on that: Thank goodness for free Wi-Fi on Greyhound buses and thank goodness for Christian Grey.

For those of you that don't know me personally, I've been a bit of a homebody since I graduated from college in 2008. By that I mean, I've traveled around the Pacific Northwest quite a bit, but I've only been on an airplane three times in the past four years. This is a huge lifestyle change for someone who picked a school almost 3,000 miles away from home. Ironically, my work/vacation coincided with the four year anniversary of my college graduation. I'm still in semi-disbelief that I've been out of college for as long as I was in it.

For the first couple of years after school, financial constraints and a sporadic work schedule made it impossible to travel. Now, four years later, because I felt like so much has changed since college, I was honestly a little bit nervous to go back and "face the past." For example, the last time any of my friends from college had seen me, I was still using tanning beds. Would seeing the same places and people from before challenge my new lifestyle choices?

Reunited with my friend Leanne from college.
Yes and no. A few days before I flew out of PDX, my friend mentioned that we might be going to a pool party while I was out visiting. Almost as instinctively as breathing, I thought to myself, Oh crap, I'm going to have to get a spray tan. Then my normal brain caught up with my subconscious: Katie, you are much more comfortable in your own skin than you were four years ago. You just rocked an orange mini-dress at a party--totally sans tan--you know you don't need to be tan to be beautiful.

Was my mind just playing tricks on me because talking to an old friend evoked feelings of that old version of me?

At the end of the day, my anxieties were for naught. I had an absolutely amazing time on my trip. Seeing my old girlfriends, part of my felt like no time had passed at all. We were able to pick up conversations right where they left off four years ago. In a way, it was kind of like the best of both worlds: new me meets old me. Not unexpectedly, I did feel a little "homesick" for parts of my old life on the East coast. When I left Portland for Pennsylvania in 2004, I never thought I would be coming back. But here I am. Such is life. Apparently you can't always predict how things will turn out.

On a lighter note, you may have noticed in the picture above that I finally found a big, floppy hat!!! It's made by this company called San Diego Hat Co, specially designed to provide protection from both UVA & UVB. I absolutely love it!

Time to start planning my next vacation...