By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Some people are at higher risk of skin cancer than others, but anyone can get it. The most preventable cause of skin cancer is overexposure to ultraviolet light either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds. People with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop skin cancer. Risk factors vary for different types of skin cancer, but some general risk factors are having a lighter natural skin color, family history of skin cancer, a personal history of skin cancer and exposure to the sun through work and play.
“As I regularly tell women seeking to maintain a youthful appearance, the most cost-effective intervention is a bottle of sunscreen — and not one that sits on the vanity or in the bottom of a purse, but that is used on a daily basis,” said physician Mary Gail Mercurio, a UR Medicine dermatologist and professor in the department of dermatology and the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She is also certified by the American Board of Dermatology and is a member of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease.
Mercurio gives five tips to healthy skin care for women.
1 There is no such thing as a safe tan.
Any amount of tan — either from the ultraviolet rays of a tanning bed or the natural sunlight — is the body’s warning that skin cells are being damaged and, therefore, increases the risk of skin cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. The three major types (in increasing order of seriousness): basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. All types occur more commonly in fairer skin, which is most susceptible to damaging ultraviolet rays.
“Just like cigarettes, sunlight is cancer-causing,” said Mercurio, who has a special interest in dermatologic conditions unique to women. “Because the signs can sometimes be subtle, a full skin exam is a prudent means of prevention. For reasons we do not fully understand, these cancers can arise in hidden areas not habitually exposed to the sun, such as an armpit or even between toes.”
However if skin cancer is caught early, there is high likelihood of eliminating it entirely, often even at the pre-cancerous stage.
2 Every bit of sun exposure contributes to premature aging of the skin.
“Many women seek out a tan thinking it enhances their appearance yet, as a result, wrinkles and skin pigmentation come out with a vengeance over time,” said Mercurio. “In fact, the more deeply penetrating rays emitted by tanning beds contribute even more than natural sunlight to these aging effects.”
Mercurio said if having a darker tone skin is too important to ignore, then a spray tan is a safer alternative.
3 Adult acne is different than the teenage variety.
Acne and wrinkles at the same time? That’s not fair! Some women who never had acne in their teens have outbreaks as adults.
“Pimples in adults tend to be deeper under the skin, sometimes even painful. Because adult acne is driven more by hormones, the usual teenage approaches to acne treatment are often not effective,” said Mercurio. “The underlying hormones that are driving the acne in adult women are best combatted with hormonal solutions; in fact, there are now multiple birth control pills with a specific indication for acne.”
For those women who only get pimples here and there, a quick injection of a corticosteroid directly into the pimple can nip it in the bud.
4 Pattern hair loss in women is a common and vexing problem.
It can be a huge blow to self-esteem as some women perceive it as a loss of femininity. It is one of many conditions falling under the umbrella term of “alopecia,” which have various causes and treatments.
“Female pattern hair loss starts slowly and stems from the incremental shrinkage of the hair follicle mostly on the very top. It often appears as a widening of the hair’s part, but it also results in the hair growing much more slowly overall,” she said. There may be a genetic link to female pattern hair loss with an equal chance of being passed on from either the mother’s or father’s side of the family, but in many cases no one else in the family has the condition.”
It’s usually not related to other health problems but, in rare cases, may be a sign of a serious underlying medical condition so your doctor should take a detailed history and examination in search of other signs pointing to a hormonal imbalance. The only FDA-approved medication is topical minoxidil, which is effective in many women and easily available without a prescription. In addition, there are devices and procedures gaining foothold in treating hair loss, including low-level laser light administered via a specialized comb or helmet-like device, or injections of one’s own revved up blood cells.
5 Skincare for women includes treating troubling vaginal issues.
Countless women suffer silently with troubling vaginal or vulvar symptoms related to childbirth, menopause and aging. Often, these symptoms detract from their ability to enjoy a healthy sex life. Until now, the primary treatment option has been hormone replacement therapy (HRT), which can include pills, patches or topical creams. A new option, vaginal laser therapy, is providing lasting relief without hormones.
Dermatologists have been at the forefront of device development for cutaneous laser applications, and building on this progress, these same lasers are now being applied to technologies for women’s health. Much like laser treatments used to rejuvenate facial skin, this specialized device, known as diVa™, resurfaces the lining of the vaginal wall and external skin. The resurfacing promotes collagen growth and increased blood flow, resulting in healthy new tissue.
“Though some may wince at that term, it is a simple, painless outpatient procedure — done right in a doctor’s office — with long-term results and no down time or side effects,” said Mercurio.