Sun Safety Essentials!


I am thrilled to be attending my first Mom 2.0 Summit at the end of the month! Bloggers from all over the country and even Canada are gathering in Scottsdale to share ideas and inspiration. I am lucky enough to live in Arizona so I can drive with some friends to attend!

I know many people are looking forward to soaking up our beautiful Arizona warmth and weather! And by golly, we look forward to sharing it! But, there is danger associated with our sunshine I’ve faced firsthand.

I am a fair-skinned red-head and grew up in Arizona. I wore sunscreen most of the time, never laid out in the sun nor went near a tanning bed. Yet, the UV is so extreme in Arizona, I ended up being diagnosed with melanoma (the bad skin cancer) at age 29.

I’ve been on a 6-year journey battling lung and brain tumors and want everyone to avoid what I’ve been through. Here are some tips so you can enjoy our beautiful weather and avoid injuring your own skin and risking your health.

Who wants cancer or to look old prematurely?
Not you?
I thought so.

Slip, Slap, Slop and Seek Shade

UV levels are highest between 10am and 4pm. I looked up the UV levels at the Phoenician over the next 4 days. You can clearly see from the image below when you need to use sun protection!

UV levels in Phoenix April 2015

My mantra for when I teach sun safety for children is, Slip on a shirt, Slap on a hat and sunglasses, Slop on sunscreen and Seek shade outside!

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Does Sunscreen Cause Cancer?

Updated July 9 with additional resources

This article claims that wearing sunscreen and avoiding the sun causes cancer. It has exploded on the web today. What do I think? Well, the easy answer is to quote my friend Timna’s (Respect the Rays) response to it.

“Total Fucking Bullshit.”

I alsofind this spread of misinformation sickening. Since my diagnosis I’ve had lots of misinformation passed on to me. Much of the melanoma community is quick to respond “I tanned and have melanoma!” I understand this gut instinct. “Learn from our mistakes, we cry!” But, let’s talk strategy in examining and refuting articles like this. While personal stories are incredibly compelling, we need to be aware of fallacies in our arguments AND in the crap like this that is promoted online. I could name a number of friends who have melanoma and tanned. I am a person who didn’t tan and has melanoma. How do we draw a scientific conclusion based on this testimony?

I could also tell you I have friends who didn’t use car seats when children and they survived. Sure, but are the children who died in car accidents here to tell their stories? No. This isn’t a perfect example for melanoma and tanning but it shows the flawed logic that is sometimes used with personal experience arguments.

Instead, let’s see if we can refute this with a more methods based, scientific approach. Specifically for this article.

  1. First let’s check the source links at the bottom of the article. The source is here.   When we check the link, the article linked doesn’t cite the study. Merely mentions it with an affiliation. IF this is information found in a real study, why is the original study not mentioned?
  2. Is an unbiased source? No, clearly based on their URL, they are against conventional medicine, which means they most likely distrust the FDA which regulates sunscreens. This bias should be recognized, especially when claims to cite scientific studies. How do they trust some and not other studies? My guess is they are cherry picking their facts to support their claims.
  3. The actual study can be read here.  Good luck. In my reading, I was surprised to learn that the statistics related in the original article aren’t based on death from melanoma or skin cancer. It is based on all deaths without considering cause. The study also discusses vitamin d deficiencies in those living further from the equator (like in Sweden) and that this may play a role compared with high UV areas like Australia and the southern United States. Was this mentioned in the tabloid-like headline of the original article? Nope! All in all the study seemed fairly subjective. Survey based, threw out previous cancer cases, didn’t include risk factors for melanoma such as red hair in some of their statistics. Seem like fishy evidence on which to base a conclusion to you? Sure does to me.
  4. So does sunscreen cause cancer? This study doesn’t mention it. Lack of Vitamin D may contribute to mortality rates, but we can get vitamin d in safer forms than sunbathing and tanning beds.

I am planning on discussing more about how to discern claims about sunscreen and sun safety in future posts. Hopefully this information will be helpful in all areas of your life. I am not against holistic medicine.

I AM living 2 years beyond when I was expected to die because of evidence based medicine.

I will continue to be passionate about educating others to find good information and empower them to make the best decisions for themselves and their families! (This is my own personal testimony, biased based on experience, but meant to show my passion to educate others!)

For a fun video about fallacies in thinking and how our brain likes to trick EVERYONE into seeing patterns which aren’t really there, check this out!

“…maybe you can find some evidence that say’s you’re right, but you’ll have to ignore a whole lot more evidence that says you’re wrong. When we filter evidence to support that conclusion and ignore what disagrees, we are victims of confirmation bias.”
“And that’s why science was invented. A way to fight the human tendency of assuming that what we see is what’s true. Instead of starting with a conclusion, and filtering out all the data that doesn’t agree with it, science starts with an explanation and does everything possible to prove it wrong.”
“Science, above all else, requires a desire to disprove ourselves. It’s a sharp tool that we use to poke holes in our ideas, so we’re sure that they’ll float. And unless we do that on a regular basis, our princess will forever be in another castle.”

Update: Since I posted, other reputable sources have also released responses to the original article. Check them out if you want further information.

Seven Easy Sun Safe Tips!

Beach photo

In September of 2009 when I was diagnosed with melanoma, Daniel and I met with a sun safety educator after my first doctor visit. I’ve lived in sun safety land for a long time, but this weekend when I was speaking with a group of girl scouts I was reminded that not everyone has the privilege of meeting personally with a sun safety educator. So, here is a quick reminder of the basics of sunscreen that I teach when I am asked to speak to groups.

  1. Make sure it’s labelled “broad-spectrum” and at minimum SPF 30
  2. Read the directions!
  3. Apply 15 minutes before sun exposure
  4. Use a lot, don’t miss a spot! Don’t forget the scalp, ears, neck and lips!
  5. Sprays- Spray until you see it, then rub it in
  6. Cover with clothing whenever possible! (Especially UPF clothing)
  7. Don’t forget broad rimmed hats and sunscreen 1397004_10152042693775809_602037830_o 1604832_10152287278270809_2077659736_n

Sunscreen Spray Dangers

sunscreen spray

Well, duh…

“You should never apply a product labeled as flammable while you are near a source of flame. In the five incidents reported to FDA, however, the burns occurred after the sunscreen spray had been applied. The ignition sources were varied and involved lighting a cigarette, standing too close to a lit citronella candle, approaching a grill, and in one case, doing some welding. These incidents suggest that there is a possibility of catching fire if you are near an open flame or a spark after spraying on a flammable sunscreen—even if you believe you have waited a sufficient time for the sunscreen to dry and your skin feels dry.”

Read the full FDA report here.

In the news this week…

“For sunscreen spray products, the agency requested additional data to establish effectiveness and to determine whether they present a safety concern if inhaled unintentionally.  These requests arose because sprays are applied differently from other sunscreen dosage forms, such as lotions and sticks.”

I’m not sure why this was  in the news cycle this week as the FDA inquiry was published in May 2012, but I addressed my concerns about sunscreen spray here. The FDA article is here.

Perhaps we should avoid these products? I have used sunscreen spray a few times in the past couple months and I feel flammable for hours afterward and can’t get the alcohol smell out of my nose! Yuck!

I do think the lotion forms of sunscreen spray seem to avoid most of these issues. And in ANY case, any sunscreen is better than none. Don’t forget to read the directions and wait 15 minutes after application to give the sunscreen time to work! It also helps to spray until you see your skin is wet, rub it in and then reapply and rub again! If you are taking the time to apply, take the time to make it work for you!

Don’t Fry Day! Don’t forget your sunscreen!

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month is winding down with the end of May and today is the last day of school for my kiddos! This summer break we plan to do lots of swimming, playing soccer in our backyard, and geocaching. It will involve lots of time enjoying the outdoors in our beautiful desert home.

When I was first diagnosed with melanoma, I was afraid to be outside in the sun. With time and practice I have learned with a little thought and planning I can enjoy outdoor activities and still protect my skin! This is also the time of year I am purchasing new sunscreens for the summer.

Today, the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, is designated as “No Fry Friday.” A good time to do a little sunscreen and a sun safety reminder. So, if you are doing your summer sunscreen purchasing right now like I am, here are a few things to keep in mind as you consider what to buy.

  • SPF 30+ Sunscreen needs to be SPF 30 or higher to be effective
  • Broad spectrum Make sure your sunscreen protects you from both UVA (aging) and UVB (burning) radiation from the sun
  • Reapplication Make sure to apply generously and reapply according to the directions on the bottle
  • UPF clothing and hats as well as sunglasses provide additional and necessary protection when outside!
REI sun protective girl's swimsuit

Horray for UPF swimsuits and sunglasses!

I am often asked my opinions and recommendations on sunscreen products for children and adults. Whole Foods is a good place to locate mineral based sunscreens free of nano particles and potentially dangerous chemicals like oxybenzone. I wrote about my concerns about oxybenzone in my post FAQ2: How to Evaluate a Sunscreen.

Whole Foods Market Speedway Tucson

Whole Foods Market Sun and Skin Care Section

Beginning tomorrow, Whole Foods is offering 30% off Sun Care Products from May 23rd thru 26th. The family and I went to Whole Foods on Speedway to check out their selection for you.

All Natural Moisturizing Sunscreen

DeVita Solar Protective Moisture SPF 30+

DeVita Sunscreen is made locally in Phoenix!

We found a new favorite sunscreen today. DeVita Solar Protective Moisture Sunscreen SPF30 Made in Phoenix, AZ. Short ingredient list. Rubbed in beautifully. All natural. Sold!

Much smoother than most zinc based sunscreens

Abby models the smooth texture of Devita sunscreen.

No chalky residue after rubbing in sunscreen

DeVita sunscreen rubbed in quickly with no white residue!

For my very local friends, the Whole Foods Market Oracle store remodel is due to finish and reopen at the end of August. Yay! You can follow all Tucson locations on Twitter for updates! Stay tuned for upcoming reviews of other sunscreens we tested out today. We found a few great new brands and one we’d skip! Enjoy your Memorial Day and don’t forget your sunscreen!

Free snacks for tired children!

Thanks to Whole Foods for offering my tired children a sample without even knowing I was writing a review!

Not an ad. I purchased this product on my own dime. The link above is an Amazon affiliate link. If you buy with the link, I get a very small percentage of what you pay to help offset my review costs. I only review sunscreens which I would use on my family and myself based on basic requirements such as broad spectrum and a minimum SPF of 30.

My Mom has Melanoma by Abby


Reading messages from other melanoma warriors during the Pass the Parasol campaign.

A guest post by  my sweet daughter, Abigail Bishop, age 7. I didn’t edit her writing.  She refers to “mela-no-mas” because of our melanoma walk team name. We just don’t have the heart to correct her because it’s so stinking cute! I also love that I asked her to tell me “what it’s like when your mom has melanoma.” She came up with the term “my experience” all on her own!

 My experience with having a mom with mela-no-mas is very scary because i think she will always have mela-no-mas. I really hope my mom stops having skin cancer. My mom has skin cancer because she had a mole that changed on here back. To avoid skin cancer you have to get skin checks once a year and if you see a mole that changed tell your doctor.


Art Abby made for me after the melanoma walk. Nov 2013


When Mom has melanoma your friends will come walk with Team Mela-no-mas!


I am always sunsafe on safari!


Even if your mom has melanoma, she still might take you on your first trip to Tiffany and Co to try on jewelry!

Expired Sunscreen

Sunscreen goes bad

Make sure to keep an eye on sunscreen expiration dates. I found a couple really old bottles last month!

A few weeks ago I was at the park with one of my best friends. She pulled out a tube of sunscreen I recognized as a freebie from the Melanoma Walk swag bag a few years ago. Being the bossy/concerned friend I am, I grabbed it, mentioned I’d loved this brand but had she checked the expiration date because they gave it away a few years ago? She insisted it was from this year. I flipped the bottle upside down and it had an expiration date of 2/12. She was shocked and borrowed sunscreen to use that day. I actually went home and found the same bottle in my drawer and tossed it right away!
I am preparing to speak to a girl scout troop about sun safety this weekend and pulled out my demo sunscreens from last year. I glanced at the expiration date and found that the sunscreen I bought last May to use in my children’s classrooms expired 3/14! Bah!
EVERY sunscreen bottle or tube has an expiration date stamped on it. I tend to hoard sunscreen bottles searching for the latest and greatest product and then shove them in my drawer when I don’t absolutely love them. I know this is the time of year people are pulling out the bottles from last summer. Although YOU know you should be wearing sunscreen all winter, right? This is a good time to do a sunscreen inventory and toss that expired sunscreen. PLEASE make sure you check your sunscreen for it’s expiration date. Also, make sure you don’t leave it outside or in your car because the chemicals will break down and cause it to not work as well! It’s not worth risking your skin to bad product!
The more you know!

*Edited to add, it’s been confirmed that expired sunscreen was distributed at the Skin Cancer Institute Melanoma Walk this year (November 2013.) PLEASE check all you bottles, including those freebies!

Melanoma and Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Photo of Martha labeled with frame which says "I wear black for me. Melanoma Awareness."
I wear black for me!
Photo of Martha labeled with frame which says "I wear black for me. Melanoma Awareness."

I wear black for me!

May is melanoma and skin cancer awareness and prevention month. The melanoma community is working to do some wonderful things for education and awareness. Last year I was blessed to have many people honor me by wearing black on melanoma Monday and it felt so good. This November at the annual local melanoma walk I had a large team of family, friends and co-workers supporting Team Mela-NO-mas. I feel like after almost five years of this journey, people are understanding melanoma better. They know it’s not “just” skin cancer. It first invaded a mole, then my lymph nodes, then my lungs and even my brain.

At this point, I am healthier than I have been in years and have real hope that I have a long future dealing with melanoma in more of a chronic disease relationship than a fatal disease. BUT that does not mean that I haven’t narrowly avoided a death sentence and may very well end up fighting for my life again. This fight has changed me in ways I never thought it would. I’m not sure if I will ever be able to communicate them. Daniel and I joke that I am “past my expiration date.” And boy am I thankful for that!

But this journey has left me restless. I am still frustrated that people close to me don’t “get it.” I see friends who have walked this journey at my side not wear sunscreen or complain to me about tan lines. It’s pretty obvious when I go to the park with them and they put sunscreen on their kids (just because I’m there) none of them are in the habit of applying it daily. Celebrating tans or complaining about tan lines developed on vacation is like rubbing salt in my wounds. And while I try to find peace with their choice, to be honest, it feels belittling to my journey. There ARE things they can do to protect themselves and their children from this disease and when they don’t take those steps, it’s tough not to take it personally.

For all my frustrations, there are people getting the message. I do have friends who diligently slather sunscreen on their kids and themselves daily. I have friends who have stopped tanning because of my story. I have friends who have had skin checks and avoided a late stage diagnosis like mine.

This month there are some wonderful campaigns going on. There are clever slogans and moving videos. I will be sharing many of those. Many of my fellow warriors are sharing their own stories. But this year, I’m not asking you to wear black for me. I’m asking you to learn from my journey to hell and back. Change your habits. Protect yourself from the sun. Check your skin. Check your kids. Make a derm appointment. Work to change your perception of a healthy glow to undamaged and protected skin. Try a new sunscreen to make it easier to wear. Do one thing for YOU and your family. I’ll wear black for me. If you wear black, do it for you, but don’t make that the only thing you do.

Cub Scout Pack 219 Sun Safety Talk

Tonight I had the honor of being a guest speaker at the local Cub Scout Pack Meeting speaking about sun safety! We started out by talking about skin being the largest organ on our body and that it needs protection, especially from our desert sun! I grew up in the desert and wore sunscreen to protect my skin in the summertime when I would swim, but I didn’t protect my skin in the winter. What happens if we don’t protect our skin? We can get a sunburn, ouch! But even worse, our skin never forgets the damage the sun does to it. Our skin isn’t very good at healing from sun damage. It remembers being hurt. A few years ago, a spot on my skin changed.  I found out I have a nasty kind of skin cancer called “melanoma.” Lots of grownups get tricked and think skin cancer can just be cut off. Sadly it can’t. The bad skin cells grew down into my body and try to take over my insides like weeds! I have to take lots and lots of medicine to try to stop the weeds. It’s not very fun. They make me tired and grumpy sometimes.  I hope that all of the cub scouts will take really good care of their skin so they don’t get melanoma! I have three ideas to help protect your skin!

SLIP on a shirt. When you are swimming or outside, make sure you wear a shirt with sun protection in it. A plain while tee is the equivalent of SPF 7 and does not offer enough coverage alone. A wet white tee is only SPF 3! So, check the labels of swim shirts to make sure they have sun protection built in. These are widely available during swim season at most retailers. They also don’t wear off in the water or with time and you don’t have to worry about missing spots while putting on sunscreen! My kids LOVE that I don’t have to rub cold sunscreen on their tummies and backs!

SLOP on sunscreen. Use a lot, don’t miss a spot! Make sure it is at least SPF 30 or above. Read the directions and make sure Mom and Dad read the directions, it needs time to start working before you go outside! Sunscreen is only water resistant for 80 or 40 minutes at a time, so check the label. It needs to be reapplied often! And be careful to get the tricky spots like the back of your neck and tops of your ears!

SLAP on a hat and sunglasses. This gives extra protection for the tricky spots that are easy to miss with sunscreen. The boy scout hats are a good start, but if you are hiking, try a wide brim hat to protect your ears and neck even better! Melanoma can grow in your eyes, so sunglasses are important to protect your eyes too!

You are invited to walk with Team Mela-no-mas in the Tucson 2013 Melanoma Walk! No mas means no more in Spanish, so our team name means no more melanoma! It is a family and dog friendly mile and a half walk. You can register to join us at Fight Melanoma Today. If you join our team, please email me and let me know what size t-shirt(s) you would like!