Skin Cancer IQ

Keeping Up with Skin Cancer Awareness

Estheticians are invaluable in the fight against skin cancer. Less than half of Americans suffering from a skin condition are likely to consult their dermatologist. Estheticians can use their time with clients to not only change someone’s life, but also to help save it. Let’s discuss some facts about melanoma and other skin cancers, and provide information to help you recognize and prevent skin cancer for your clients.


Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. Unfortunately, by the time it is discovered, melanoma has already spread to affect the lymph nodes in one out of eight cases. In darker skins, the death rate from melanoma is 2.5 times greater than it is in lighter skins. Lesions are most commonly found on the legs for women. In fact, most cases of melanoma are discovered when clients or patients come in for other unrelated skin conditions and treatments and are discovered after a full body examination.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer.

Just as with breast cancer, the only cure for melanoma is early surgical removal, when the cancer cells are in a layer less than 1 mm thick. When the layer of cancer cells is thick, the eight-year survival rate is much less: 86 percent for 2 mm thick down to 20 percent for 4 mm thick.

Fortunately, melanoma is highly curable when detected early. Advise your clients to take a little extra time examining their skin for any new growths, spots or tumors (especially if over age 25) when performing a monthly self-exam. The most accurate way to ensure your clients recognize a melanoma is to encourage them to be aware of lesions that look or feel different than any others on their body. Any lesions that are growing wider at the base or are changing within a birthmark are other major indicators of melanoma. Another signal for melanoma is a growth that has any soreness, itchiness or redness lasting for more than two weeks. If any specific growth worries you, err on the side of caution and have the lesion removed by a dermatologist. The only accurate diagnosis that determines melanoma survival is what is seen under the microscope.

Non-Melanoma Cancer

In the female population, squamous and basal cell cancers afflict about 800,000 people per year, with more than 1,000 cases resulting in death. Squamous cell cancer usually appears as a crusted, red growth that is tender, but it may also be brown or look like a patch of dermatitis. Basal cell cancer may also appear like dermatitis, but usually it is pearly or reddish with a jelly-like material. Basal cell lesions can sometimes look like a growing whitish scar.

Everyone is at risk for skin cancer, however some people are at a much higher risk than others. Factors that more than double a person’s chance of getting skin cancer—namely melanoma—include having very fair skin that always or nearly always sunburns; physical characteristics such as red hair and blue eyes; experiencing two or more blistering sunburns by age 18; use of indoor tanning beds (even once); a sibling with a history of melanoma; living in high desert agriculture areas or having an active outdoor lifestyle. Although women account for more than half of the American population, they experience a lower incidence of skin cancer than men. The distribution of lesions and age of onset differs between men and women due to apparel, hormonal activity and use of tanning systems.

The easiest treatment involves taking precautionary steps to prevent cancer. Prevention of skin cancer has three components:

1. Protection against UV radiation.

2. Maximizing skin health by

optimizing barrier function.

3. Maintaining a healthy,

anti-inflammatory diet.

These are daily habits that should come as naturally to you and your clients as brushing the teeth.

UV Protection

Recommend sunscreens that also provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant protection. For maximum protection, apply sunscreen twice, approximately 30 minutes apart, with the second application timed more than 30 minutes before UV exposure. Applying sunscreen 30 minutes prior to going outside gives the ingredients time to bind to the skin barrier (the outer exposed areas of the stratum corneum).

Discourage your clients from using tanning beds, even during the gray, gloomy days of winter. Use of indoor tanning beds is the major factor behind the increasing incidence of skin cancer among the female population. Tanning in the skin is actually the manifestation of skin cell injury, which is why there is no such thing as a “safe” tan. Tanning beds produce four times the amount of UVA light as natural sunlight and two times the UVB light in the same time of exposure, but do not stimulate the thickening of the protective skin barrier as sunlight does. UVA activates melanoma and wrinkles while suppressing normal immune protection. It occurs year round, from sun up to sun down, and penetrates through windows and cloud cover. UVB produces most sunburns, and is a contributing factor to squamous and basal cell cancer.

Many people fear that regular sunscreen use will reduce sunlight-activated vitamin D levels in the body. On one hand, this can be a valid concern, since low vitamin D levels increase the risk of internal cancers and infection. On the other hand, most individuals apply only between one fourth to one third the amount of sunscreen recommended by the FDA.

Healthy Skin Comes First

The skin must be healthy, with optimum skin barrier function and the inhibition of damaging chronic inflammation in order to achieve desired beauty and protection. The core of the skin barrier resides in specific oils deposited in precise ratios between surface skin cells. These specific oils are a mixture of ceramides, including sphingosine, cholesterol and linoleic acid, along with some palmitic and stearic acids. Ceramide alone is very good for moisturizing and mildly reducing inflammation, but it provides only mild (7-11 percent) skin barrier enhancement. When all three barrier oils are contained in a barrier product formula, barrier repair is improved by 68 percent, compared to 43 percent for 100 percent petrolatum. Glycerin, mineral oil, beeswax and lanolin all provide some barrier repair effect as well. The best products for your clientele include those that are proven to repair and optimize the barrier while preventing and reversing the effects of chronic inflammation.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Since the skin is the largest organ of the body, it is impacted by overall health. A diet that promotes healthy skin should be dominated by anti-inflammatory items. Dietary supplements that reduce sensitivity to UV radiation with antioxidant activity include teas (green, black and white), pomegranate, grape seed and chocolate (if more than 55 percent cacao). Curcumin in curry has also been documented to prevent skin cancers as well as reduce inflammation.