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August 19, 2020

Skin Cancer Prevention Tips From a Two-time Survivor and Top Medical Experts

Summer may be coming to a close, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to toss the sunscreen. Sunscreen is a daily, year-round necessity and a must for every skin cancer prevention arsenal.


melanoma cancer awareness picture
The words Melanoma cancer with a black awareness ribbon


Skin cancer is potentially life-threatening, and the surgical aftermath does more than leave physical scars. People rarely give skin cancer a thought until it touches them directly.  Many people don’t pay enough attention to skin cancer – the thinking is that it’s invisible, theoretical, or simply a scare tactic that advertisers use to sell sunscreen. But none of those things could be further from the truth.



Doctor Ablon headshot
Glynis Ablon, M.D. F.A.A.D., Director at Ablon Skin Institute & Research Center as well as Associate Clinical Professor at UCLA


According to UCLA Associate Clinical Professor, M.D., and F.A.A.D. Glynis Ablon, “The most important thing to understand is that a tan or burn is sun damage. You are damaging your cells and that is what leads to skin cancer and wrinkles. Neither of which are appealing!” Dr. Ablon is right – something I’ve learned the hard way and want you to avoid.



Embrace Yearly Screening Exams with Fervor


Some types of skin cancer, like basal cell carcinoma (BCC), are fairly common and can be removed completely during a simple in-office procedure. I had mine in 2017 and have followed the American Academy of Dermatology’s recommendations for yearly skin checks faithfully ever since. The check-ups are so important, in fact, that free screenings are offered across the country (although COVID-19 has made them temporarily less accessible).


During a full-body skin check, your dermatologist literally maps every mole, freckle, and tattoo on your body, so that he or she can monitor changes from year to year. Questionable moles can be viewed with a DermLite dermatoscope, and really questionable moles will be removed and analyzed to determine further treatment.



board certified nurse melissa haloossim
Melissa Haloossim, Board Certified Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Director/Co-Founder of Skin Thesis


One Successful Cancer Surgery Doesn’t Mean You’re Cured for Life


The thing to remember about your skin is that damage can takes years or decades to surface. That tan that looks good in your 20s might actually be your downfall in your 40s. And that accidental summer sunburn is a factor as well.


Melissa Haloossim, Board Certified Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Director/Co-Founder of Skin Thesis® explains that, “There is a link between sunburns at an early age and melanoma. Getting a severe sunburn that causes blistering can even double your chances of developing melanoma.” In my case, I had both fabulously bronzed skin and blistering burns, so being diagnosed with Clark’s Level II malignant melanoma despite a successful BCC removal shouldn’t have come as a shock.



Changing Technology and Updated Guidelines Make Detection More Accurate


If you’re thinking of ditching your yearly screening, think again! Technology constantly evolves, and the MelaFind® detector that deemed my freckle acceptable a year earlier was replaced with a more accurate tool, which I credit for having such a successful outcome.


Cancer staging methods also change. The Clark staging method, while still commonly utilized by pathology testing facilities, has been replaced with the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging system.  This method considers the “tumor, node, metastasis (TMN) scores and other prognostic factors” when assigning a stage – which equates to a better understanding of the cancer and the level of damage it has caused.





Some Words to the Wise


If you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, you’ll need even more frequent follow-up checks – like every 90 days for two years and every six months for three years after that. Please do everything in your power to protect yourself. You can do that by:


Tracy Ann Teel is a full-time freelance writer and the owner of Finesse Writing and Editing LLC. She’s a tutorial writer for San Francisco Globe’s beauty platform,, covering everything from skin and hair care to makeup and nail art. She writes for skincare companies, dermatologists, and cosmetic surgeons, and proudly taught at her MFA alma mater, the University of California Irvine, as a member of their adjunct faculty in English. She’s been a textbook reviewer for Prentice Hall, been recognized three consecutive years in the Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, and has written professionally for 30+ years. Her poetry chapbook Such Dust was published by Finishing Line Press, and her work has appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Rattle, Pearl, Kaleidoscope, and Lake Arrowhead Life.



This is super important information. I cannot stress this enough. Some people do not even realize the risk they put their skin at when doing certain things. That is why it is important to go and check out your skin here and then.

You're exactly right, Vanessa. And sun damage can take years to surface. Even though I'm doing everything right now, I will always be battling skin cancer. I had two more biopsies yesterday, and I just had my last check-up three months ago. Skin cancer is very, very real.

I am sincerely sorry you have to go through this tough battle. I wish you all the best and I hope everything is okay and works out regarding your skin. It is insanely crazy how just a minimum time in the sun could leave such a long term effect on our skins.

This is such vital information! Thanks for sharing. I had no idea that these skin conditions required such a close watch!

Most people don't know the importance of a skin check-up, Sara. It's like going to the doctor when you're healthy. It seems like a waste of time, but having a baseline to compare changes to over time can be the difference between successful treatment and no treatment. Here's a link to my very personal story about my first bout with skin cancer:


Amazing article! Thank you so much for this!

You're welcome, Sarah! If I can help just one person avoid skin cancer, I'll count myself successful. Here's a link to my original story, if you're interested:

Such important information! I live in Phoenix and we are constantly swimming in the summer to beat the heat, and hiking during the cooler winter months. It can be easy to forget or simply forego the sunscreen when you spend so much time outside. But sunscreen is a MUST no matter where you live!

This is SO wildly important. I come from a family that naturally tans and we never thought much of it until my sister got skin cancer. She has had multiple biopsies and now our entire family is in the practice of 50spf ALWAYS and getting annual check ups for our skin! Thank you for the reminder!

Tanning was actually encouraged when I was growing up, Kelsey. That's unfathomable today! Keep up with those annual exams. I have to go every 90 days for two more years and then every 6 months until I reach year 5. You can read a really personal version of my first cancer experience here (my very first article for Beautytap):

Such a great article. I had no idea that skin damage can take decades to resurface.

Thanks, Gloria! Most people don't realize that damage takes years to rise to the surface. I've had two different types of skin cancer - two years apart - which is why it's so important to get a yearly checkup. What looks absolutely normal to the naked eye could be life-changing and life-threatening. 💋

Wow. Really knowledgeable advice. I would have never thought that even a tan can be harmful your skin.

You're not alone on that one, Nathaniel. Most people are unaware that a tan is actually sun damage. I certainly was! Sunscreen really is our best line of defense -- against skin aging and cancer. ☀️

Loved this article! I had no idea that sunburns that I got when I was younger could increase my chances later in life. In fact I have a mole on my arm that I really would like to get checked out as soon as possible. I have a darker complexion so I never thought that I need sunscreen when I was younger but my parents advised me otherwise. I am thankful they did! Most people do not use sunscreen on a regular basis but I am trying to incorporate it into my life as well as others around me in... Read more

Oh, Sarah, please schedule an appointment right away! Even a teledermatology appointment would be a step toward peace of mind. My melanoma "mole" looked like a freckle and was smaller than the tip of a cotton swab. The scar ... well, you've seen that. If you want to learn how I finally got on the "annual checkup" wagon, you can read my first story for Beautytap here:

As someone who was not raised understanding the lasting effects of adolescent sunburns, (Can you say cocoa butter?) I applaud your article and toughness, Tracy. My eldest child had a scalp mole change in high school, and it had to come off. My father-in-law at the time was a fair-skinned man who never heeded sunscreen until several parts of his body had to be cut off because of melanoma. I get annual checks by a dermatologist, wear sunscreen even when overcast, and try to baby my skin if it does get exposed. Sunscreen should be your invisible shield... Read more

Sometimes, we have to learn the hard way ... but that's exactly why I now consider myself the unofficial poster child for sunscreen and skin cancer awareness. I was a cocoa butter, baby oil, and tanning bed kid, so I only have myself to blame. But we know better now, don't we? The first story I ever wrote for Beautytap was about my first cancer experience. You can read about that here: