Posted by on October 10, 2012 - 12:56pm

On Monday, The Scientist printed a valuable article linking to a TED video and a new book entitled Living Color by Nina Jablonski. The video and book delve into the importance of skin color and types for health and social well-being.

To me, there are three points of greatest value: 1) that as humans, our personal melanin and intake of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) are vitally important to our individual health, 2) that as migration and evolution has occurred our pigmentation gene is exceptionally labile, and 3) that skin pigmentation and our individual variations are not discussed nearly enough in our society.

Although I am an advocate for more open, honest dialogue about the significant role race has in this country, this argument for better quality health is different. We need to begin also addressing what pigmentation means for the individual and how women have varying skin needs.  This message is not about Black, White, Asian, Latino, or any other socially constructed label for race or ethnicity, this is about individual health concerns.

As the author correctly explains, the MC1R gene, which is the gene predominantly responsible for pigmentation, has little variation in African people. Those with darker (or more melanin-rich) skin have a “built-in defense” against harmful ultraviolet radiation, is often ideal for health and normal cell reproduction. However, as humans migrated and evolved there was a depigmentation of skin, leading to lightly pigmented (or melanin-poor) peoples. This mismatch of genetic predisposition and solar regimes can mean very different things for a woman’s health.

For example, Nina Jablonski asserts that, “People of Northern European ancestry, for instance, living in Florida or Australia confront intense UVR conditions with pale, melanin-poor skin and suffer from sunburns, high rates of skin cancer, and accelerated skin aging. People of central African or southern Indian ancestry living in Wisconsin or Wales face low and highly seasonal UVR conditions with exquisitely sun-protected skin and suffer from vitamin D deficiencies as a result.”

Ladies, knowing your body also means knowing the health risks and benefits associated with your skin.  Remember, your skin is the largest organ in your body, talk to your health care providers and keep yourself safe!

Posted by on August 9, 2012 - 10:10am

Coffee has been widely linked to an array of health benefits including: decreased occurrences of type-2 diabetes; lower risks of Parkinson’s disease; lower risk of colorectal cancer; lower mortality rates; decreased skin cancer risk; and decreased rates of heart failure.  Some studies have deemed coffee unhealthy, but according to others, this claim proves inconsistent and improvable.  There are disadvantages to drinking coffee such as irritability and insomnia, but in general, coffee proves beneficial. In honor of National Coffee Month, pour yourself a cup or two and reap the following benefits.

A study in the journal Food Science and Nutrition cited coffee as being associated with a reduced the incidence of both metabolic syndrome and diabetes mellitus.  Researchers believe this is due to coffee’s antioxidants and its ability to enhance insulin sensitivity, which results in decreased glucose storage.  Specifically, caffeine affects glucose metabolism through increased uncoupling protein expression and lipid oxidation.  This causes decreased glucose storage as well, thus reducing the extent of diabetes mellitus. The same study also attributed coffee to lowering the risk of Parkinson’s disease.  Researchers theorize that this lower risk may be due to antioxidants acting on neural pathways that affect one's risk for Parkinson's. However, the study also said that water intake must be included to reap these benefits.

Additional research reveals that coffee may lower the risk for many other conditions. Certain acids and fiber in coffee may protect against colorectal cancer and skin cancer (specifically basil cell carcinoma), and coffee consumption may also decrease the risk for developing heart failure by 11% (compared to the risk for non-coffee drinkers), but that this decreased risk comes with a two eight-ounce cup limit, with protective benefits undermined after 4 cups.

Drinking coffee does not mean that you will not suffer from the aforementioned conditions; researchers show that it only lowers one’s chances.  There are many other factors to consider such as lifestyle, environment, and genetics. Coffee should not be used solely as a preventive measure, nor should it be considered a reliable treatment for any condition. Additionally, results of the myriad coffee studies are conflicting as far as how much is too much or how little is too little to reap the most benefits. Continued study is required to determine the ideal amount and to understand the mechanisms behind any benefits.

In the meantime, enjoy the 'jo. Cheers to good health.


Coffee and Mortality

Coffee and Skin Cancer

Coffee and Heart Failure


Posted by on July 29, 2012 - 8:13am

A new study points to indoor tanning as a cause for melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer,  particularly among young sunbed users.  Overall, there was a 20% increased risk for melanoma with any indooor tanning, according to Mathieu Boniol, PhD, of the International Prevention Research institute in Lyon, France, and colleagues.   The risk nearly doubled when sunbed use began before age 35.

"Powerful ultraviolet tanning units may be 10 to 15 times stronger than the midday sunlight on the Mediterranean Sea, and repeated exposure to large amounts of ultraviolet A delivered to the skin in relatively short periods (typically 10 to 20 minutes) constitutes a new experience for humans," Boniol's group observed.

The last meta-analysis on risk of melanoma with indoor tanning was conducted in 2006. It showed an increased risk, but no dose-response could be identified.  Since that time considerably more data have been published, so Boniol and colleagues performed an updated meta-analysis that included 27 studies and 11,428 cases of melanoma from 18 countries in western and northern Europe.

In studies that considered risk according to the number of tanning sessions each year, there was a 1.8% increase in melanoma risk for each sunbed exposure.  For high use of indoor tanning, the risk increased by 42%, and when initial exposure was more than 5 years before the diagnosis of melanoma, the relative risk was 1.49.

The researchers reported that melanoma could be attributed to sunbed use in 5.4% of cases overall, and was associated with 6.9% of all melanoma cases in women and 3.7% of cases in men.

This means that in the  European countries included, about 498 women and 296 men would die each year from a melanoma as a result of being exposed to indoor tanning using artificial ultraviolet light," the researchers stated.

They also noted that it was unlikely that the increases in melanoma could be explained by greater sun exposure.

"Compelling evidence that use of sunbeds can be a cause of melanoma and not just a proxy for sun exposure arises from the investigation of a melanoma epidemic in Iceland, a country located between 64 and 66 degrees North and where sunny days are uncommon," the researchers wrote.

That epidemic began in 1990, with a sharp increase in cases among young women, but began to decline 10 years later, when Icelandic regulatory authorities cracked down on tanning facilities.

The researchers noted that some data have suggested that sunbed-related melanoma may not be as aggressive as the solar-induced malignancy, but cautioned that the overall burden of disease is likely to rise because of the continuing popularity of indoor tanning, particularly among young people.
Source reference:
Boniol M, et al "Cutaneous melanoma attributable to sunbed use: Systematic review and meta-analysis" BMJ 2012; DOI: 10.1136/bmj.e4757.






Posted by on May 25, 2012 - 6:26am

The National Council on Skin Cancer Prevention has designated the Friday before Memorial Day as “Don’t Fry Day.”  This year it is May 25.   The goal?  To make sure people stay safe in the sun and protect their skin while enjoying the outdoors—on “Don’t Fry Day” and every day.

Here’s why. Skin cancer is on the rise in the United States; the American Cancer Society estimates that one American dies every hour from skin cancer. In 2012 alone, the American Cancer Society estimates there will be more than 76,250 new cases of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.

“Don’t Fry Day” offers simple steps that you and your family can take to prevent sun-related skin cancer, such as:

  • Slip on a shirt
  • Slop on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher
  • Slap on a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wrap on sunglasses.

For more information on resources available for "Don’t Fry Day" and skin safety, visit

Learn more about how to protect your skin by clicking HERE.

Posted by on November 2, 2011 - 6:39am

Next time you get a haircut, you might end up with a referral to a dermatologist.

A recent survey of Texas hair salons found more than a third of stylists check at least half of their customers for suspicious moles on the scalp, and most have referred people to a doctor lest the mole turn out to be skin cancer. What's more, half the hairdressers were keen to learn more about skin cancer to help extend the reach of doctors screening for the disease, according to findings in the Archives of Dermatology.

"What we would like to do in the next couple of years is to train as many hair professionals as possible," said Alan Geller, of Harvard's School of Public Health in Boston, who led the new work. "We think this holds a lot of promise."  He's not the only one hoping to spread the gospel of modern medicine through hair salons and barbershops, whose clientele might not otherwise see a health provider. There are many urban  programs that utilize barber shops and hair salons to spread preventive health messages related to breast and prostate screening,  heart disease and diabetes.

But other experts aren't convinced.   "As a rule, you should do what you're good at," said Dr. Martin Glud, a dermatologist at Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen, Denmark. "If you're a hairdresser, that's cutting hair, with all due respect."    Earlier this year, Glud published a study showing that while the rates of melanoma—the deadliest form of skin cancer—have shot up recently, the disease's death toll has barely increased. That indicates that at least in some cases, the additional tumors being diagnosed wouldn't have gone on to kill the person.   "Some believe the rise in melanomas is really a sign of overdiagnosis," Glud told Reuters Health.

About one in 50 white Americans born today will get melanoma at some point during their life, according to the American Cancer Society. The group estimates that roughly 8,800 will die from the disease in 2011.   Because melanomas are so rare—particularly on the neck and scalp—and moles are very common, Glud worries that hairdressers might sound a lot of false alarms, contributing to the problem of overdiagnosis.   "It's a slippery slope," he said.

Geller acknowledged that having hair salons double as screening centers could end up taxing scarce health care resources.  "We would need to make sure that this doesn't lead to a tremendous drain for the health care system," he cautioned.  Suspicious moles are those that itch, bleed, change color or grow asymmetrically. A dermatologist may choose to biopsy such a mole and remove it if cancer is found. That can leave a scar, and may require a skin graft in the case of larger tumors.   Geller, who polled 203 hair professionals from a chain of 17 salons in the Houston area, said there is "circumstantial evidence" that screening for skin cancer saves lives. But he acknowledged there are no direct experiments to prove that point.

As a result, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a federally appointed expert panel, says there is too little data to balance the harms and benefits of skin cancer screening at the doctor's office, let alone hair salons."I certainly can't support the implication of this study that we should be training hairdressers to do skin screenings," said Dr. Michael LeFevre from the task force.   But he added that doesn't mean they shouldn't point to moles their customers might not have noticed themselves. "To raise the individual's awareness that there is something there is not inappropriate," he told Reuters Health. "That is different from referring them to the doctor."

Editor's Note:   Interesting debate, but since I really never look at my scalp, I would appreciate my hairdresser---especially someone who has been cutting my hair for years---  pointing  out anything unusual!   A visit to a dermatologist to confirm any suspicious mole could result in early and a less costly diagnosis.


Posted by on August 3, 2011 - 8:55am

Even if sunscreens say they’re waterproof, they’re not. Sunscreens can wash off with sweat, or just being in the water. When this happens, their sun protection washes off, too, leaving users at greater risk for burns, premature skin aging and possibly even skin cancer.

So the Food and Drug Administration has set new rules to help people know what they’re getting and when to use it. FDA dermatologist Jill Lindstrom:

``Sunscreens may only use the term `water resistant,’ and must clearly indicate how long water resistance actually lasts.’’

You might not see the change on the labels just yet because the rule is new – it’ll take effect by the summer of 2012 – so there’s a lot of product on the shelves that doesn’t have the information.

Learn more at

Posted by on May 21, 2010 - 12:34pm

The results of a study were recently released that examined the best strategy to wean college-age women who are considered addicted or pathological tanners from tanning salons.   "They're not worried about skin cancer, but they are worried about getting wrinkled and being unattractive," said June Robinson, a professor of dermatology at Northwestern University and senior author of a May 17 paper in Archives of Dermatology. "The fear of looking horrible trumped everything else," said Robinson.

Between 25 to 40 percent of older adolescent girls visit tanning salons, according to the study's authors and they and other scientists link the rapidly rising rates of melanoma and other skin cancers in young women to tanning beds.  The National Cancer Institute reports that melanoma rates among Caucasian women aged 15-39 rose 50% between 1980 and 2004.  The World Health Organization recently reclassified indoor tanning beds to its highest cancer risk category.

The study included 435 college women who visited tanning salons up to four times a week.  The study results surprised the researchers.  Click here for full  press release.

Source:  Marla Paul, Northwestern University Newscenter.

Posted by on July 30, 2009 - 8:21am

That scary title brought to you by a new study that was performed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, which shows that people who begin using tanning beds regularly before age 30 increase their risk of developing skin cancer by 75%.  The group has said that this makes regular tanning bed use as carcinogenic (cancer-causing) as smoking cigarettes, and as dangerous as arsenic. (You can read the entire article here, if you have log-in credentials).



The interesting part about these statistics is that women currently have a far lower chance of developing skin cancer than men do, for both melanomas and the most common nonmelanoma carcinomas. Still, it seems that we’re just aching to catch up, because the predominant users of tanning beds are young women. According to a large study of American teenagers, girls are far more likely to think it was worth getting burned to get a tan, to believe that some, most, or all their friends tanned, and to put a high value on tanned skin. It seems quite obvious that this is an issue that starts far before a teenage girl gets in the tanning bed; it involves a clear societal value or beauty ideal being placed above health.  These seem all to common among women today, from unhealthy dieting to risking surgery and back problems simply to have larger breasts.

Now that we know the risks, and we understand that it is really our young women who are in the most danger, what should we do at a personal or political level? Already, several states have enacted laws that require parental permission for teens to use tanning beds, require a doctor’s note, or simply ban tanning by persons under a certain age altogether. What do you think? Knowing the risks, will you still use a tanning bed? Do you think that adults should be unfettered by the government in this risky practice, even as we protect our nation’s teenagers?