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IU School of Medicine Researcher: Lip Balms, Sunscreens Make Ideal Holiday Gifts


Lawrence A. Mark, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of dermatology at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a researcher with the Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, said these make ideal gifts because people often forget to protect their skin and lips during the winter when the sun’s rays aren’t as direct.

“You can’t see the sun’s ultraviolet rays, you can’t feel them, but some of them can harm you,” Dr. Mark said.

Because of that, Dr. Mark recommends these tips for protection against the sun during the winter months:

  • Apply sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 to the exposed skin. Dr. Mark explained SPF this way: If your skin begins to redden after being in the sun for one minute, you could expect to be in the sun for 30 minutes while wearing an SPF of 30 before you see the same amount of reddening.
  • Wind burn can chap skin so lip balm is important. Look for ones that have an SPF of 15 to 30 already included in the product.
  • Avoid UV tanning lights. If you have seasonal affective disorder, it is the visible light that stimulates the brain, so UV tanning lights don’t add anything that a full spectrum, sun-simulating light bulb (without the UV) can do. Enjoy it for 20-30 minutes a day in your favorite reading chair.

According to the American Cancer Society, most of the more than one million cases of skin cancer diagnosed yearly in the United States are considered to be sun-related.

Basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the most common forms of skin cancer. Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer, and it can appear suddenly on any part of the body or develop from a mole. About 70,230 new cases of melanomas will be diagnosed and about 8,790 people will die of melanoma in 2011, according to the American Cancer Society.

What should you look for?
Dr. Mark tells patients to watch for what he calls the “ugly duckling” sign. “If you have a spot that just doesn’t look like any other or just doesn’t act like any other, it is best to have a doctor examine it, just to be on the safe side,” he said.

Dr. Mark and his colleagues use the ABCD’s to evaluate melanoma:

  • A, asymmetry: half of a mole or birthmark does not match the other half.
  • B, border: edges are irregular, ragged, notched, or blurred.
  • C, color: the color isn’t the same all over but may have differing shades of brown or black, sometimes with patches of red, white or blue
  • D, diameter: the area is larger than six millimeters (about the size of a pencil eraser) or is growing larger

Pay attention to your body and talk with your physician about any changes you notice. If detected and treated early, these cancers have a greater than 95 percent cure rate.