This week is National Women’s Health Week; this month also happens to be National Skin Cancer Awareness Month. To be honest, this time last year I had no idea that either of these events existed. I was happily readying myself for a week at the beach with friends and anxious to start laying out and establishing the foundation for my summer tan. If enduring a sunburn meant a deeper glow, then that was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
Today, melanoma is no longer showing up only in women who have had five or six decades of sun exposure. It is now the second most common cancer found in women 20 to 30 years old, thanks in part to tanning beds and the Hollywood ideal that being tan is considered glamorous. But here’s the kicker, unlike most other diseases, skin cancer is predominately considered a lifestyle disease, meaning it’s highly preventable.
As naive as it may sound, I truly felt like skin cancer wasn’t something I needed to worry about. It wasn’t until I saw this video, titled “Dear 16 year old me,” that I realized something… There is nothing glamorous about skin cancer. So how do you get the message across to stubborn, “invincible” teens and 20-somethings (like me) that skin cancer isn’t something to ignore? Social media, of course.
Just this month, 27 year-old Tawny Willoughby shared a graphic selfie of the painful blisters and scars all over her face from intense skin cancer treatments. The picture was posted in an effort to encourage others not to make her same mistakes. Willoughby was diagnosed with skin cancer at 21 years old and places most of the blame on her teenage tanning bed addiction. The image, which has been shared over 50,000 times, was recently reported to Facebook for “graphic violence.” Which, if you think about it, is quite poignant.
In February, a nonprofit organization called Mollie’s Fund, created a startling public service announcement titled, “Free Killer Tan.” Their goal was to raise awareness to the dangers of indoor tanning by inviting unsuspecting New Yorkers into a fake tanning salon, and filming their reactions when walk into their own funeral instead. The video has since been viewed over a million times.
In 2014, L’Oreal, in conjunction with the Melanoma Research Alliance (MRA), developed a Skin Cancer Awareness campaign called “It’s THAT Worth It?” which plays on their famous brand tagline, “Because you’re worth it.” This public health call-to-action urged women of all skin tones to prevent melanoma by using sunscreen and other sunless tanning products. Additionally, L’Oreal vowed to donate $1 to the MRA for each L’Oreal Advanced Suncare product sold in the US. Celebrity spokeswomen, like Diane Keaton and Eva Longoria, are also lent their support for this movement.
This year, L’Oreal is encouraging everyone to create a 15-second video in which you say why sunless tanning and SPF protection are important to you and share it on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #ItsTHATWorthIt — and tag at least three friends in your post to get your network involved. For each video shared L’Oréal will donate $1 to MRA.
There is even an app that you can download to your smartphone that helps you understand your risk factors for melanoma and keep track of your moles. SkinVision also explains UV index and how it can impact you based on your skin type. The app allows you to easily check skin spots by taking a picture, uploading it, receive instant analysis, and find dermatologists in your area. The creators of the app explain that this isn’t just an app to detect melanoma, it is, in fact, a platform that allows users and dermatologists to identify skin lesions and monitor them over time.
I have been fortunate enough not to have any skin cancer scares and I want to keep it that way! I still love to spend time in the sun, but I’m much more careful about applying sunscreen, covering my face, and checking my skin for anything that looks abnormal. I encourage women to take advantage of National Women’s Health Week and go get a check up or a professional skin exam, and for everyone to use National Skin Cancer Awareness month as an opportunity to brush up your sun safety and skin cancer knowledge.