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Doctor offers sage advice: Wear sunscreen or else

August 22, 2018

GREENWICH — With the long Labor Day weekend a little more than a week away, Greenwich residents are eager to experience the outdoors while summer still lasts.

That could mean trips to the beach or the new pool, time on boats in Long Island Sound or maybe a few more games of golf and tennis. But before you go outside, a leading town dermatologist warned residents to protect themselves from the potentially harmful effects of the sun.

“All of these skin cancers, in the last 40 to 50 years, have increased tremendously,” Dr. Richard Connors told the Retired Men’s Association of Greenwich on Wednesday morning. “In 1935, one in 1,500 Americans developed melanoma. Now it’s one in 60.”

Connors, a clinical assistant professor at New York University Medical Center’s Department of Dermatology, operates an office in Greenwich and is also section head of dermatology at Greenwich Hospital. It was his second talk before the RMA — an audience Connors particularly wants to reach.

“Those with the highest incidents of skin cancer are overwhelmingly senior citizen, white men,” he said. “As I look around this audience, that’s what I’m looking at. … The two overriding issues are that generally you are a fair-skinned population, and decades ago, we all grew up with the conviction that the more sun we got the better. Go out and get the sun was the mantra when I was a child. For decades, that’s what we did. And as a result, we stored up on our skin a true reservoir of DNA-damaged skin cells.”

As people grow older, Connors said, their immune systems protect less against infection and cancer. It’s not just seniors who are at risk: People who are 40 and older are very susceptible to skin cancer, he said.

Melanoma is on the rise among young women because of the popularity of tanning booths, which Connors said are unsafe and should not be used. Men, who have shorter hair, are at risk of developing skin cancer on their ears, he said. It is typically a more aggressive form of cancer, too.

Connors urged everyone to wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses as well as clothing specifically designed to protect against the sun. Adults should check their skin and see a dermatologist if anything looks abnormal, he said.

“Once a month, take two minutes and simply scan your skin,” Connors said. “You can’t look at your liver. You can’t look at your intestines or your lungs. But you can look at your skin, and you don’t have to be a professor of dermatology at Harvard to recognize something different and perhaps something threatening.”

He also discussed the importance of wearing sunscreen. Parents should apply sunscreen on their children before leaving for the beach or pool to give it time to take effect. If applied just before jumping into the water, the sunscreen will be washed off, Connors said.

Additionally, he recommended using sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 or as high as 50. Connors also advised against spray-on sunscreens, which generally do not give good coverage.

He also brought along recommendations from Consumer Reports about the best sunscreens. At the top of the rankings is La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios, a French brand that carries a price tag of $36 per bottle. But the second highest ranked sunscreen, Equate Sport Lotion, is available from Walmart for $5.

Connors’ audience of more than 100 people included several of his patients — he joked that it was a pleasure to see with them with their clothes on. But his purpose was serious as he handed out pamphlets and other materials. He asked the audience to be “apostles” for sun protection and skin surveillance by talking to their families and friends.

“It is my deepest hope, quite frankly, that by doing this, I’ll save at least one life,” Connors said. “Not only among the people here, but among your families.”

kborsuk@greenwichtime.com

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