Sun Protection Stories from Dermatologists
We asked our resident sun protection experts to share their sun protection stories & why it’s so important to them!
Why are you so passionate about sun protection? What is your Sun Protection Story?
“When I was younger, I lost my father to an aggressive form of lymphoma. My uncle is the person who helped me get through that difficult time and became like a father figure to me. He was then diagnosed with melanoma at a fairly young age, and I was devastated about the possibility of losing another father in my life. Fortunately, through the help of his dermatologist and yearly skin checks, his melanoma was diagnosed early. He has been cancer free for several years now. This is the reason I am so passionate about sun protection and skin checks. Skin cancer is preventable, and sun protection can save lives!”
-Dr. Lindsey Zubritsky, Board Certified Dermatologist & Private Practice Attending in Pittsburgh, PA
“I grew up in a household with a dermatologist as my father but even as a child sunscreen and sun protection wasn't discussed much. It wasn't until college and then medical school when I realized that my sunburns and even episodes of sun poisoning didn't lead to a good tan and really didn't feel good that I started to use really good sun protection. Then when I was in medical school, my grandfather and mother (both of whom are redheads and spent years in the sun) developed amelanotic melanoma. These usually present as pink to red spots on the skin, rather than the more typical dark and irregular brown to black spots. If this wasn't scary enough, I did a research year at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the Dermatology Department and saw first hand what metastatic melanoma looked like. There were some patients younger than I was a the time who were on novel experimental treatments for their life-threatening malignancies. Since then I am always the one with a bag of sunscreen at the beach, sitting under an umbrella, wearing a hat, long pants, and long sleeves. (Almost) everyone in my family now wears daily sunscreen and sun shirts/sun protective clothing. It's truly about embracing that way of life rather than thinking of it as a chore or a "have to." After completing my Dermatology residency, I went on to complete a Mohs Micrographic Surgery Fellowship, where I specialize in the surgical treatment of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers and reconstruction. I love that I go to work everyday and patients will leave at the end cancer-free.”
-Dr. Alyx Rosen Aigen, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at Dr. Phillip Frost Department of Dermatology and Cutaneous Surgery
“I’m passionate about sun protection because I think there are so many myths surrounding it. Many people think they don’t need to protect their skin from the sun, especially if they tan easily or don’t burn. As a dermatologist, the one thing my patient’s with skin cancer all seem to say is that they wish they knew more about the harmful effects of sun exposure. I feel it is my personal duty to inform others about sun-safe practices so that these habits can be started as soon as possible, including children.”
-Dr. Fatima Fahs, M.D.
As a dermatologist, I have a passion for promoting healthy skin habits. My interest in skin cancer started early on before medical school, as a melanoma research fellow at NYU School of Medicine. During my time, I helped create a database which contained invaluable information on those who developed melanoma. During residency, I did specialty training in the use of dermoscopy which is a tool that can help evaluate skin cancers more closely.
Throughout my years of practice as a dermatologist I have diagnosed and treated numerous skin cancers. It is incredibly rewarding to be able to save their lives. During every patient visit, I always include information about sun protection. One of the most rewarding moments as a dermatologist is when a patient comes back for their annual visit and tells me that they changed their sun habits and started using sunscreen and/or wearing sun protective clothing. To me, these are the wins that keep me going.
-Dr. Caroline Chang, Board Certified Dermatologist, Rhode Island Dermatology Institute
As a mom and a Dermatologist, I am passionate about sun protection to protect my family and patients.. We know that sun protection helps prevent skin cancers and also signs of aging. I emphasized smart sun safety so we can all enjoy the outdoors and that includes protective clothing and sunscreen.
-Dr. Nazanin Saedi, Dermatologist
My mom warned me about the dangers of the sun and indoor tanning from a young age, but aging and skin cancer felt light years away, problems that would never affect me. As a teen, I worked as a lifeguard during the summer and I vividly remember feeling completely invincible and choosing not to wear sunscreen so I could work on my tan. Now as a dermatologist I see patients every day with significant signs of sun damage. Some of this damage is just cosmetic, wrinkles and sun spots, but for many patients this damage has led to skin cancers. These cancers are painful, require surgery (often leaving unsightly scars behind), and can be deadly. So I guess I’ve become passionate about sun protection to right the wrongs of my youth. I want to speak to my younger self and reach those teenagers and young adults who think they can escape the harmful effects of the sun. Thanks to companies like Cabana Life, you can learn to embrace your inner pale fashionably!
-Dr. Alexandra Zeitany, Dermatologist
For me, as a board-certified dermatologist who diagnoses and treats skin cancer daily, sun protection is for everyone - from darker skinned individuals to those who are marginalized from healthcare. Global health is a passion of mine and I go to Africa yearly to work with a non-profit organization called Standing Voice. As a member of Standing Voice’s Skin Cancer Advisory Committee, I play a leading role in Standing Voice’s contributions to research and training in skin cancer prevention for people with albinism. Persons with albinism unfortunately die at an early age from completely preventable skin cancers due to cultural, social, economic, and healthcare limitations in Africa.
-Dr. Melissa K. Levin, Board-Certified Dermatologist and Founder of Entiere Dermatology
As a dermatologist I am very passionate about sun protection, but I wasn't always that way. In my younger years I was not always sun smart and put my skin at risk way to many times. My unhealthy practices continued until medical school, but that all changed when I encountered a young patient who was dying from stage 4 melanoma. This particular patient had a long history of outdoor tanning and also used tanning beds for many years on a regular basis. I saw myself in this patient and realized I had to change my ways. Now as a dermatologist I make sure to educate my patients on sun protection and how it is multifaceted. Sunscreen, sunglasses, a wide brimmed hat, and UV protective clothing are all discussed and drilled into my patients on a daily basis! I stress consistency and repetition to help build habits that will last a lifetime.
-Dr. Ana Cristina Laureano, M.D., Dermatologist
As a dermatologist, I witness the damaging effects of the sun, from disfiguring and deadly skin cancers to flares of autoimmune conditions to cosmetic issues. A lot of my patients tell me they wish they had been more diligent about protecting their skin when they were younger.
-Dr. Sophie A. Greenberg, M.D., Dermatology Resident, Columbia University
As a dermatologist, I treat skin cancers, pigmentary issues and photoaging all day long -- all issues that are caused or worsened by sun exposure -- so I talk to my patients about the sun literally all day long. Going farther back, I grew up in India in the 90s. It was a time when fair skin was really prized thanks to a marriage of a colonialism hangover with the caste/class system. So sun protection is instinctual to me and to many in my generation, for better or for worse.
-Dr. Mitalee Christman, Board-certified Dermatologist at SkinCare Physicians
Because of my patients. In my practice, I’ve treated many people with skin cancers, most of which could have been prevented with diligent sun protection. If I can prevent even one skin cancer and the pain and discomfort that comes with treatment through educating my patients on sun protection, I’ve done my job.
I have to confess, I grew up in southern California and being outside and tanning is a big part of the culture. I did not use sunscreen or sun protection during those beach days in high school and I regret that now. Now that I know what I know, I try to be as diligent as I can be.
-Dr. Aegean H. Chan, MD, FAAD, Board Certified Dermatologist & Dermatopathologist
Most skin cancer is PREVENTABLE! If you start protecting your skin from an early age, the reduction of skin cancer occurrence and photoaging can be incredible! Risk factors for skin cancer include skin that burns easily, blond or red hair, a history of excessive sun exposure/sunburns, tanning bed use, a weakened immune system, and a history of skin cancer. I was born with light skin and light hair; therefore, I have always been at an increased risk for skin cancer. Thankfully, when I was younger, my mother was aggressive with sun protection. I wish I had all the UPF clothing options available then so I could have been both stylish and protected from the sun!
-Dr. Madeline Tarrillion, Board-Certified Dermatologist/Cleveland VA Medical Center
I have been a melanoma specialist, caring for patients with melanoma, multiple melanomas, or metastatic melanoma, for the past 12 years. I have lost beloved patients to melanoma when it is diagnosed too late. Evidence shows that sun protection is one of the key ways to help prevent melanoma, so I am passionate about educating others about the importance of doing this. Following sun protection measures can actually save lives. I do not want to lose any more patients.
-Dr. Jennifer N. Choi, MD, Associate Professor of Dermatology, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
I am so passionate about sun protection because when I was a young child and teenager, our family went to Mexico and Caribbean for vacations, and my dad did an excellent job applying sunscreen on all of us every day. However, when I was older, there were times I had a sunburn because I did not re-apply well. I remember those sunburns because they were painful. They say that most of your sun exposure occurs prior to age 18.
-Dr. Nikoleta Brankov M.D., Dermatology Chief Resident Physician
The medical and cosmetic benefits of great sun protection are undeniable. The two major causes of skin cancer are UV light from the sun and UV tanning machine use. There are many UV-induced skin malignancies some of which can be fatal. Early detection and prevention of skin cancer saves lives. Sun protection is your best tool against skin cancer AND against the visual signs of skin aging – and the earlier you start the better! As a dermatologist I have taken care of countless patients with skin cancer and seen the devastation it can cause. Protecting and educating my patients is of foremost importance in my dermatology practice and my life!
-Dr. Blair Murphy Rose, Dermatologist
Sun protection is a way we can actively protect our skin and our health. It is something that people can commit to every day to improve their health and appearance and take control over their skin. I am particularly passionate about making sure people start thinking about sun protection early, as we know the impact of cumulative sun exposure on the skin can be significant.
-Dr. Marisa Garshick, Board-Certified Dermatologist, MDCS: Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers; Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Cornell
Nothing looks better in your 50s than sun protection in your 20s. Early habits of sun protection and sun safety can help prevent sun damaged skin causing skin cancers. By practicing sun safety, your skin will be thanking you because it's much easier to prevent than correct. With my father having been diagnosed with squamous cell cancer so close to his eye from so many years in the sun, I became more vigilant on protection as a young woman. This has also helped with pigmentation issues that can be induced by the sun.
-Dr. Kimberly Jerdan, Dermatologist
Educating about sun protection is important to me not only because I am a dermatologist and see the negative effects of the sun on a daily basis, but also because I have already had multiple skin cancers myself, undoubtedly related to excessive sun exposure during my childhood and teenage years.
-Dr. Britt Craiglow, MD, Dermatology Physicians of Connecticut & Yale Department of Dermatology
I've dedicated my career to the prevention, early detection and treatment of skin caner and I'm incredibly passionate about this topic. Sun protection is the ONE risk factor for melanoma that we have any control over. I take the time to educate each of my patients (even those coming in for acne) on the importance of protecting their skin on an everyday basis- it makes a huge difference in the long run.
My sun protection story is interesting. If you knew me as a teenager, you would probably be very surprised to find out that the girl going to tanning beds once (or even twice!) a day would end up a dermatologist. The fact is- I simply had no idea that I was doing any damage. I have skin that tans easily and I rarely burn. In my teenage mind, I didn't need to worry about sun protection. I simply did not know. I learned about the dangers of tanning as a medical student and was shocked to find out that tanning bed use increases risk of melanoma. I was ignorant to the fact that you didn't have to burn to have sun damage. This is why I feel it is so important to educate people- most (like my teenage self) just do not realize that tanning is dangerous and even skin that never burns can still develop melanoma. I've also realized that most people don't understand how much sun they are truly exposed to on a daily basis- they assume they only need to protect themselves at the pool or beach.
One of the most wonderful compliments I have received is from a teenage girl who told me at her followup visit that she stopped going to tanning beds because of me- makes my heart jump for joy!
-Dr. Kathryn Dempsey, Dermatologist
I’m a dermatologist who biopsies and treats skin cancer every day. I grew up and practice in Los Angeles and see the damaging effects of excess UV radiation. I love educating my patients about proper sun protective behaviors and sun protective clothing.
-Dr. Onyeka Obioha, Dermatologist
As a dermatologist, I'm well aware all the dermatologic problems that are sun induced. Ultraviolet radiation is known to cause skin cancer, aging, and flare up of many other skin concerns. Since majority of skin cancer and skin damage is preventable, sun protection is key.
-Dr. Jenny Liu, Dermatologist