Thanks to the tireless efforts of Robins, who served as the Skin Cancer Foundation president until 2016, more consumers understand the dangers of UV exposure, said current Foundation President Deborah Sarnoff, MD, who studied Mohs Micrographic surgery under Robins—and admits that even she applied baby oil and laid in the sun.
“When I was a resident we knew that the sun wasn’t good for us, but I went through med school without anyone telling me how bad UV was for my skin,” Sarnoff recalled. “We even used psoriasis lightboxes to get tans!”
In this atmosphere within the medical community, the Skin Cancer Foundation was born, but it was tough sledding at first, as other doctors went so far as to break down the Skin Cancer Foundation’s booth during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology. Back then, not everyone was convinced of the devastating health risks associated with getting too much sun.
“People resisted at first,” recalled Sarnoff, a board-certified dermatologist, who is the director of dermatology at Cosmetique Dermatology, Laser & Plastic Surgery, LLP. “But Dr. Robins never had any doubt, and never took no for an answer. He saw the damage that skin cancer causes and was determined to do something about it.”
Forty years ago, people didn't believe UV exposure was dangerous and couldn’t see the need for a Foundation, with the sole mission of pushing for early detection, prevention and treatment of skin cancer with the underlying message that the earlier the diagnosis, the better chance of survival.
Today, of course, every dermatologist knows of the health problems caused by UV and none of them would ever let their own children go outside without proper UV protection, but Sarnoff insists that too many doctors still don’t preach the dangers of getting too much sun, which makes the Skin Cancer Foundation’s message even more critical.
For four decades, SCF has urged consumers to get their skin examined early and often, and today, as a result, more patients are living well into their 90s.
“When I started, people were dying from skin cancer in their 50s,” recalled Sarnoff, who was named president of the Skin Cancer Foundation in 2017 after serving as senior vice president of the organization. “Now, patients are living longer, too.”
As the same time, the Skin Cancer Foundation lobbied and convinced legislators to set age limits for tanning bed usage. As a result of SCF’s efforts there are fewer tanning beds in the US, as well. Within the personal care space, the Foundation has helped spread the word about proper UV protection. Not too long ago, sunscreen formulas with SPF 4 or 6 were the norm; today, the Skin Cancer Foundation will not give its Seal of Recommendation to any formula with less than SPF 15 protection.
An Evolving Industry
Sarnoff noted that today’s sun care formulas are better as well; more elegant creams and lotions mean better adherence to usage recommendations. But more work remains. She noted that several excellent sunscreens that are available in Europe are still not allowed for sale in the US. Moreover, there is growing concern about the potential loss of sunscreen due to regulation (to see the SCF position on sunscreen bans, click here).
But no matter whether they use sprays or lotion, pumps or aerosols, consumers could use a primer on proper sun care protection.
“People forget to reapply; they swim and sweat and don’t put enough on and they neglect to cover their ears and feet; if you have a family, you need to use an entire bottle,” explained Sarnoff. “Sunscreen is just one part of a comprehensive protection plan; consumers should wear wide-brim hats, sunglasses and protective clothing, too.”
At this year’s annual meeting of the American Academy of Dermatology, March 1-5 in Washington DC, the Skin Cancer Foundation will receive a much warmer reception than Dr. Robins did 40 years ago. The Foundation will have a large stand with information about its mission today as well as a look back on the past four decades. The SCF conducts mobile screening for consumers in-need and recently began publishing a new newsletter “Carcinomas and Keratosis” for doctors. The Skin Cancer Foundation is in the process of redesigning its website, too, www.skincancer.org.
The site provides in-depth information on basal cell carcinonma (the most common form of skin cancer), squamous cell carcinoma and, of course, melanoma. This public service message has long been: “Go with your glow." It urges women to forgo tanning and be happy with their own skin color.