Are Skin Tags Dangerous?

Nothin but skin

Recently I had a middle-aged male patient come to me worried that he had cancer-causing growths under his arms and on his neck. Turns out all he had were harmless skin tags.

A skin tag is a benign growth of skin cells. They tend to form in areas where the skin creases such as your neck, breasts, armpits, and groin area. Although close to half the population has skin tags, they’re more common among certain groups: women, particularly during pregnancy, the elderly, and overweight or obese individuals. Skin tags tend to run in families, so if your grandmother and mother has them, chances are good you will too.

A typical skin tag (or acrochordon) is small, oval or round, and hangs off the skin. Skin tags are not dangerous, and they are not a sign of early skin cancer. Indeed, since they’re benign, there’s is no medical need to remove them.

However, if you don’t like the way skin tags look, or find them bothersome, then you can have them removed by your dermatologist. He or she can remove a skin tag by snipping it off with a scalpel or scissors, by freezing it off with cryosurgery, or by burning it off with electrosurgery (using an electric current). The entire procedure takes only a few minutes, is virtually painless, and typically heals with 24 hours.

Photo credit: FCC, Kevin Dooley

Melanoma Is on the Rise in Children

Classic beach picture

There are few sights cuter than a toddler waddling her way along the beach.

There are few sights sadder than a toddler with a raging sunburn, particularly to the eyes of a dermatologist. That’s because we know how damaging even one sunburn can be to a child. In fact, just one blistering sunburn in childhood will more than double a person’s chances of developing melanoma later in life. 

An infant’s skin has very little melanin (the pigment that gives the skin its color) which makes them especially vulnerable to sun damage. This is why babies 6 months old and younger should be kept out of the sun completely. Sunscreen is too harsh for their delicate infant skin.

Why is sun protection so important? Because we know that sun damage causes skin cancer in children, adolescents, and adults. While melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is still rare in children, a new report published in April 2013, shows that it is actually rising in children. Researchers from Washington University and Harvard have found that the incidence of childhood and adolescent melanoma has increased an average of 2% per year from 1973 to 2009. Moreover, melanoma is nine times more common between the ages of 10 and 20 than it is between birth and 10 years. So, protecting your child from the sun will help protect her from skin cancer throughout her life.

Here’s how to keep your child safe while still having fun in the sun:

  • Apply broad-spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 to 50 about 20 minutes before heading outdoors. Reapply every 2 to 4 hours, or more frequently if your child is sweating or swimming. Don’t forget to apply it to their ears, neck, hairline, hands, and feet. Do not use sunscreen on children 6 months old and younger.
  • Cover up: Your child won’t get a sunburn through clothing. So wearing lightweight protective clothing such as long-sleeved tops and pants is an excellent way to prevent sun damage. Consider buying a protective baby suit like this one or a sun-protective rash guard clothing like this long-sleeved top for toddlers.
  • Hats & Sunglasses: They’re not just fashion accessories; they’re sun-protective.
  • Seek the shade: Remember that the sun is strongest between 10am and 4pm, so limiting your child’s time outdoors during those hours will help. If that’s not possible, then be sure to sneak in shade breaks throughout the day.

Skincancer.org offers more helpful information about sun protection for infants, babies, and toddlers.

One more thing…. Have you gotten naked for someone you love yet? May is Melanoma Awareness Month which means it’s time to get naked and do a skin exam. Please help spread the word by posting about this and about your skin check! Use the hashtag #GNFSYL on Twitter.

Photo credit: FCC, Stevie Lee

9 Surprising Health Benefits of Exercise

Zoom... (Explored 1st July # 10)

Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, millions of Americans resolved to begin exercising and lose weight in 2013. While exercise helps you burn calories and lose weight, it also has numerous other health benefits that will help you have a truly healthier, happier 2013.

Here are 9 surprising health benefits of exercise:

1. Sleep better. Regular exercise helps you sleep better, provided it’s not done within 2 to 3 hours of your bedtime. Exercise can also reduce and sometimes eliminate sleep apnea, a frustrating and potentially health-threatening sleep disorder that causes disruptions in breathing.

2. Reduce your risk for skin cancer. Studies show that regular exercise lowers your risk for skin cancer, including life-threatening melanoma.

3. Be happy. If you’ve heard of “runner’s high,” then you know that exercise makes people happy. That’s because exercise boosts mood-enhancing or feel-good endorphins.

4. Reduce heartburn. Studies show that regular exercise, especially less stressful aerobic types like swimming and walking, reduce the severity of acid reflux or heartburn. And reducing heartburn can also help you sleep better.

5. Improve your acne. Because regular exercise helps regulate blood sugar, it helps reduce inflammation which can improve acne. It also reduces the stress hormone, cortisol, which is an acne trigger.

6. Have more energy. Many studies show that exercise, even just a few times a week, boosts energy. And morning exercisers reap the biggest benefit. If you need some help learning how to exercise in the morning, check out this post on 5 Tips for Starting a Morning Exercise Routine.

7. Improve chronic pain. Losing weight is critical to improving chronic pain since the  more weight you carry, the more pressure and pain to your joints and bones you’ll experience. Exercise also reduces pain because it reduces inflammation.

8. Reduce your risk for Alzheimer’sA 2012 study from Rush University Medical Center showed that daily exercise significantly reduced your risk for Alzheimer’s, even if —get this— you start exercising after the age of 80.

9. Reduce your risk for psoriasisA 2012 study from Harvard Medical School showed that vigorous aerobic exercise and calisthenics are associated with a reduced risk of psoriasis, a chronic inflammatory skin condition.

While this isn’t a direct health benefit, regular exercise saves you money by reducing the  the number of medications and doctor’s visits you’ll need. And who wouldn’t like that?

Photo credit: FCC, Yogrenda174

Why More Men Are Dying From Skin Cancer

Construction worker places rebar

Scary truth: Male baby boomers (born between 1946-1955) have twice the risk of dying from melanoma as female baby boomers. Why? There are many reasons, most involving lifestyle choices:

  • Men tend to work more outdoors in fields such as construction, landscaping, and farming.
  • Men are less likely than women to wear sunscreen regularly and to cover up with clothing and hats.
  • Men spend lots of time outdoors for recreational activities such as weekend club sports. More men, especially over the age of 50, play golf. (Just one round of golf takes about 5 hours, so you do the math.) Recent statistics say about half of all melanoma skin cancers occur in men 50 and older.
  • Men are less likely to do self skin checks or schedule regular doctors visits.
  • Men are less informed about the dangers of sun exposure. Studies have shown that many national education and awareness campaigns are directed more towards women than men.

Does that mean there’s no hope? Not at all. It’s all about implementing lifestyle changes that will keep you safe.

  • Simple things like wearing hats, wrap-around sunglasses, and long-sleeved shirts go a long way in keeping your skin protected. The guy pictured above is doing it right.
  • Using broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF 30 daily and reapplying it is probably the toughest sell to men who often feel it’s a hassle. If you’ve got a man in your life, I encourage you to help him wear sunscreen regularly. I’d avoid guilt as a motivator, which doesn’t work, and opt for humor or positive comments:  Maybe something like: ”I’d really like to get the kids in the habit of using sunscreen every morning. I’d love it if you’d apply it along with them to show them it’s important.” OR “I really like having you around, honey. Who would take out the garbage every Wednesday?” You get the idea.
  • Do monthly self-skin checks, or better yet, do it with your partner. You’ll have more fun and help keep one another safe. You’re looking for new and changing moles. (Please see this video on the ABCDEs of nodular melanoma.)
  • Know your family history. If you’re at high-risk for melanoma based on genetics or lifestyle choices, then find a dermatologist you like and go for regular screenings. He or she could be the best connection you’ll ever make.
  • For more information, visit The Skin Cancer Foundation at www.skincancer.org.

For more information about raising awareness of men’s health issues, check out my post on Movember and consider becoming a member. And please consider donating to this cause.

Photo credit: FFC, USACEPublicaffairs

Sun Safe Tee: Aiming to Keep Golfers Sun Safe

Showing Backswing

Mark Wishner was first diagnosed with skin cancer in his mid-30‘s. “It very much caught me by surprise. It was a basal cell carcinoma that was treated successfully,” he says.

Then one day, the golf-loving San Diegan was watching a tournament on TV that took place on a scorching day. “It showed the players cooking out in the sun and I thought, Who teaches golfers to wear sunscreen?

Inspired, Wishner began researching the issue and realized no one was addressing the golf community about the importance of sun protection. He contacted a few friends and fellow golfers including Dr. Curt Littler (son of Gene Littler, who won the US Open in 1961), and soon, SunSafeTee.org was born.

Sun Safe Tee is a 501-C3 non-profit charity dedicated to educating the golf community about the importance of sun protection, the risks of skin cancer, and the benefits of early detection.

Though no studies have actually looked at the incidence of skin cancer among golfers, anecdotal evidence is strong that they are a high-risk group. “Golfers spend a lot of time in the sun. A round of golf takes between 4 1/2 to 5 hours which is a long time to be in the sun, especially without proper protection,” says Wisher.

That’s where the Sun Safe Tee program comes into play. They provide educational materials, offer skin cancer screenings, and conduct both in-person and virtual events across the country. And since several dermatologists sit on the board, Wishner assures that “all information is vetted, screened, and accurate.”

The majority of the Sun Safe Tee program is geared towards junior golfers, ages 7 to 18. “We know that sun exposure before the age of 25 is critical,” says Wisher, “so we really want to teach them while their young so they can develop a lifetime of safe sun practices.”

To reach more youth, Sun Safe Tee partners with many groups including the American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) and the Golf Coaches Association of America (GCAA). They’re also part of The First Tee curriculum, a national program dedicated to teaching children ages 7 to 18 life skills and values through the game of golf.

To date, the Sun Safe Tee curriculum has been taught to over 400,000 children. And Wishner is seeing changes in their behaviors. While at a junior golf tournament recently Wishner was talking to a teenage boy who was disappointed with his poor round. To Wishner’s amazement, the boy added, “But I did remember to reapply at the turn!”

“Don’t burn, reapply at the turn,” is one of Sun Safe Tee’s slogans. It refers to the half-way point or “the turn” in a round of golf when kids are taught to reapply sunscreen.

He’s also seeing young golfers applying sunscreen more often, using UVB- protected umbrellas on their carts that block 98 to 100 % of UV rays. And most importantly, he’s seeing them cover up. “Wearing clothing as a non-chemical, physical barrier to the sun is just about the best thing you can do to protect yourself from the sun,” says Wishner. So he never tires of telling the kids, “Cover up before you tee it up!”

It’s those kind of behavioral changes that buoy Wishner’s resolve. ”We’d love to see skin cancer get the kind of national public awareness that other diseases like Alzheimer’s have gotten, especially in the golf community,” says Wishner. To that end, he’s seeking a professional golfer who would like to champion the cause and continues to plan exciting events in conjunction with golf tournaments across the country.

If you’d like to sponsor a Sun Safe Tee event at your organization then email Mark Wishner at mwishner {AT} sunsafetee {DOT} org. For more information about Sun Safe Tee, visit their website at SunSafeTee.org.

Photo credit: FCC, Makelessnoise

Guest post written by Susan Russo.

Don’t Pimp, Protect Your Ride

UV protect your car windows

Wrinkles and skin cancers are more common on your left side in the U.S. That’s because you get plenty of UV radiation through your car windows. Why not pimp up your ride and tint the windows? Because it’s against the law (at least here in California.)

Tinting is a driving hazard because it obstructs your view; it’s a safety hazard because an officer can’t see in your car when you’re pulled over.

Instead, install UV-blocking films such as LLumar, which block up to 99% of harmful UV rays. And don’t bother writing me after Highway Patrol has written you a ticket for having tinted windows. My letter to the judge, however convincingly written, won’t help you.

Photo credit: FCC, Justin Capolongo

Should I Get a Base Tan Before Vacation?

I just got back from a conference in Hawaii. Did I get a base tan first? No. Why? Because it does more harm than good.

Tanned skin is damaged skin. Even if the base tan helps prevent sunburn, you had to damage your skin to get that tan in the first place. Using artificial tanning to rush a tan before you get on your flight can be even more damaging.

Go to Hawaii, swim with the dolphins, lounge by the pool. Cover up, wear sunscreen, sit in the shade. Your skin needs a vacation too.

Photo: J Benabio, MD

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