Staff members share the most surprising things they’ve learned since joining The Skin Cancer Foundation.
Did you know that one in five Americans will have skin cancer during the course of a lifetime? It’s OK if you didn’t — this statistic isn’t necessarily common knowledge. Asking anyone at The Skin Cancer Foundation, however, would be akin to asking if they knew their own phone number. Even those of us who have been with the Foundation for only a few months are now intimately acquainted with facts about skin cancer, and many of us have found ourselves blurting out statistics to unsuspecting friends and family.
We weren’t always this way, though. We all started somewhere, and the knowledge that seems second nature now was once foreign to us. While some facts about skin cancer and sun protection are fairly obvious — you should protect yourself with sunscreen, for example — many other things were unexpected, even to those of us who have decided to make a career out of fighting skin cancer. So, we asked our staff: “What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned since joining the team?”
“Before I joined the Foundation in 2008, I thought wearing a T-shirt when I was at the pool would protect me from sunburns; little did I know how ineffective that is! Since working at the Foundation, I have discovered what UPF means and now own a whole universe of UV-protective clothing, from fashionable button-down shirts and slacks to the latest in sport (bicycling) gear.”
— Paul Melia, Director of Education Operations
“Growing up on Long Island, I loved going to the beach and couldn’t get enough of the sun. I’ve since wised up – especially after surgeries to remove a BCC on my face and an SCC on my leg. The most shocking thing I learned is that sun damage is cumulative and that I should be protecting myself from even incidental sun exposure like walking my dog or commuting to work, particularly since I’ve already had two skin cancers!”
— Victoria Kopec, Director of Marketing Communications
“When I started working at the Foundation in 2010, I had no idea that UVA rays could penetrate window glass. A colleague told me to look closely at the furniture in my apartment that received direct sunlight, to see if the fabric was faded. Sure enough, one arm of my living room sofa was shades lighter than the rest of the sofa. He said to me, ‘If that’s what the sun does to your sofa, imagine what it’s doing to your skin while you sit there.’ That was quite a shock! I’ve since moved my couch to the other side of the room.”
— Becky Kamowitz, Senior Director of Marketing Communications
“Growing up, I never thought about skin cancer as a real threat. Now I see how it can become a real issue even regardless of my ethnicity. Moreover, I’m more aware that the key to healthy, young-looking skin is as simple as protecting it from the sun.”
— David Naranjo, Digital Marketing & Analytics Manager
“I had too many sunburns as a kid and wish I’d known then what I know now about sun protection. I had no idea till I started at the Foundation in 2015 that having more than five sunburns doubles your risk of melanoma. I’ve also learned that not all schools make it easy for kids to protect themselves with sunscreen, hats, sunglasses and shade during recess or outdoor sports. I hope that will change.”
— Julie Bain, Senior Director of Science & Education
“When I started at the Foundation, I was shocked to learn that 90 percent of visible skin aging is caused by UV radiation. I had no idea how much the sun affected the appearance of my skin, even when I wasn’t getting a tan or sunburn. I always thought there wasn’t really much I could do to prevent wrinkles and age spots, and that I would just have to start using antiaging creams once I began seeing them. Now I know that by making sunscreen a part of my daily routine, I’m taking action to keep my skin healthy and glowing before signs of aging crop up.”
— Ali Venosa, Communications Coordinator
“I grew up in Seattle, which is gray and rainy throughout the year. Many of my friends and work associates (even my bosses!) had claimed that using a tanning bed helped them get vitamin D and feel energized. Particularly in the grayest parts of the year, this message eventually wore on me and I started using them as well. It wasn’t until I started working at SCF that I learned tanning beds were just as dangerous as tanning from the sun. Even though indoor tanning uses mostly UVA rays as opposed to the sun’s UVB rays, I learned that you can get skin cancer from both. It is also a myth that tanning beds help you get your vitamin D. Physicians recommend getting vitamin D through foods that produce this vitamin.”
— Rachel Patterson, Development Manager
“Since I started working at The Skin Cancer Foundation, it has been drilled into my brain that it doesn’t take all day for UV rays to do damage. Though I’ve been using cosmetics with SPF since I was 14, I ran a half marathon last May without a drop of sunscreen on. I would never do that now! Any time I am exposed to sunlight I make sure my skin is protected. I find it so compelling that skin cancers are more common on people’s left side in the U.S. because of incidental exposure while driving. In the UK it’s the right side because their steering wheels are on the right!”
— Julia Langer, Science & Education Content Manager
* This article has been updated in 2020. It was first published in the 2017 issue of The Skin Cancer Foundation Journal.