I Had Skin Cancer at 20 Years Old—Here Are the 5 Suncare Steps I Never Forget

A little-known fact about me: I have three separate scars all in a row across the tippy top of my forehead. The middle one was from when my brother hit me in the head with a shovel when I was 5 (an accident during family gardening gone wrong). The other two are from getting a couple of basal cell carcinomas, the most common type of skin cancer, removed in 2012 when I was just 20 years old. I was interning at the time and returned to the office with two bandages on my head, which I said were because of burns from my hair straightener. This was a lie I told out of embarrassment, but at the beginning, I actually did think the marks were from burns until they wouldn't go away, so I went to the dermatologist, where I discovered they were skin cancer.

Even though the procedure to remove my two basal cell carcinomas was relatively simple (it involved my dermatologist numbing my forehead and making incisions to remove the cells), it was still a hard adjustment for a 20-year-old. In college, a school dermatologist made me cry after I told her about my skin cancer history. She was being shadowed by a couple of med students, and while talking to them in front of me, she made a huge deal of how young I was to have skin cancer and how rare it was. To quote Mia Thermopolis: "As if I wasn't enough of a freak already!"

To get a more informative (and less judgmental) take on skin cancer in young people, I tapped Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. I asked him if he is increasingly diagnosing skin cancers in patients 25 and under recently.

"Skin cancers are uncommon in patients under 25," Zeichner told me. "That being said every year, I seem to find more and more skin cancers in this group of patients. This may be due to not protecting the skin as well as they should have when they were younger, the use of tanning beds, and depletion of the ozone layer allowing greater penetration of UV light to the Earth’s surface." 

I also asked Zeichner to elaborate on what makes some young people more susceptible to skin cancer than others. "Skin cancers develop as a result of genetics and environment," Zeichner said. "In some people, even low levels of UV light are enough to cause damage that causes skin cancers to develop. In other people, their skin cells are genetically more resistant to the effects of ultraviolet light. Family history is an important predicting factor. If your first-degree relatives have a history of skin cancers, you should be extra vigilant in protecting yourself from the skin." This definitely rings true for me, as my parents and grandparents have all had numerous basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas. 

Scroll down to find out my top suncare tips, and shop my favorite suncare products. Don't forget to book a skin check with your own dermatologist as well. 

1. Pay Attention to Your Hairline and Scalp

Both of my basal cell carcinomas were at the tippy top of my forehead, where my baby hairs are, which is an area that can easily be overlooked. To apply to this area, put some sunscreen on your fingertips of both hands and start rubbing it in at the top of your forehead, pushing your fingers upward into your hairline as you go. Don't be afraid to get all up in your hair—you can take a tissue and lightly dab it off of your hair at the end. Trust me when I say it's better to have some sunscreen residue in your hair than have skin cancer scars on your forehead. This also applies to anyone with a receding hairline or a bald spot—it's crucial to apply sunscreen to the areas of the scalp that are most exposed to the sun. 

In addition to covering the very top of my forehead, I also use a sunscreen powder on the area of my scalp where I part my hair. I'm a fan of Supergoop!'s, but since I have auburn hair, I can't personally attest to how it works on dark hair. 

This is my favorite sunscreen. It feels like a serum, which means it's milky, lightweight, and super easy to spread all over your face and neck. Easy application is key for me because it prevents me from getting lazy. Remember: The best sunscreen is the one you're motivated to use every single day, and I actually enjoy putting this on in the mornings. 

This is a fantastic new launch from Versed at a great price. It's so hydrating that it can double as a moisturizer, which saves me an extra step since I have combination skin. It pretty much solves everyone's sunscreen gripes: it doesn't leave any greasy or sticky residue behind and it feels invisible on your skin. My colleague further delved into the nontoxic formula and its ingredients, which is absolutely worth a read. 

This is my favorite sunscreen to wear under makeup. It has a velvety, matte texture that truly lives up to its "unseen" name. It actually feels like a makeup primer and is great for anyone with oily skin because it's very mattifying. I am definitely acne-prone, and this has never made me break out. 

This product was my first introduction to scalp SPF to cover the part of my hair, and I've only recently started exploring the category.  Instead of spraying it onto my scalp, I put some on my fingertips so I can better control the amount. Then I pat it into my scalp along my part. It's a genius invention if I do say so myself. 

2. Don't Forget Your Eyebrows and Ears

Listen: Light from the sun has traveled 94 million miles to reach your face, so your puny little eyebrow hairs are not going to protect your skin. Be sure to rub in sunscreen directly over your eyebrows, as well as all over your ears. 

I absolutely love Tatcha's Water Cream moisturizer, so I knew I had to try the brand's sunscreen. This really helps perk up my skin and minimize the need for makeup. I know it's pricey, but as I said before, it's critical to buy sunscreen that you actually look forward to using every day so you don't slack off and go without it—and this definitely fits the bill. The product description delves into its ingredients: "Silk extract leaves skin feeling silky-smooth, Japanese wild rose helps tighten the look of pores and smooths skin texture, and loquat leaf extract offers a rich source of antioxidants to protect and calm skin." 

This sunscreen has antioxidants like red raspberry seed oil, buriti oil, meadowfoam seed oil, and prickly pear extract to protect against free-radicals.

This Glossier formula touts itself as "sunscreen for people who hate sunscreen." If that sounds like you, you'll enjoy the gel, serum-like texture that absorbs incredibly easily and leaves no residue. It has a lovely orange scent that's super refreshing for summer. 

3. Take Precautions While Driving and Indoors

Like most SoCal residents, I spend a lot of time in the car. Even in the dead of summer, I wear a hoodie in the car and crank up the AC so I don't have to worry about slathering sunscreen all over my shoulders and arms. Then I just have to worry about applying it on my face, neck, and hands. Do not forget your hands, especially since they're exposed to the sun when you have your hands on the steering wheel.

Even if you don't spend much time in your car, don't forget to reapply sunscreen to your hands as often as possible. Most people in their 60s and above, including my mom, probably wish they took more care of their hands that are now covered with sunspots.

It's crucial to wear sunscreen indoors as well. UV rays can penetrate your glass windows and damage your skin. Just make it a habit of putting on your sunscreen every morning and your golden. 

I like keeping stick sunscreens in my car and in my purse. I especially like using this one on the back of my hands while I'm driving. It's perfect for when you're on the go and don't want to apply sunscreen with your fingers if you're not home to wash your hands. Germaphobes, I'm talking to you. 

This lightweight fluid sunscreen consistently gets rave reviews for its silky texture.

A spray is great for covering large areas like your arms, legs, and back. 

Don't forget to reapply sunscreen over your makeup throughout the day. Mists like this make it super easy. 

4. Make Sure Your Lip Balm Has SPF

Similar to eyebrows and ears, lips can be overlooked when it comes to SPF. During the day, I always make sure my lip balm has SPF in it. (At nighttime, I use whatever I want.) If you're anything like me, you reapply lip balm constantly due to dry lips anyway, so SPF products are a great way to get maximum sun protection without even trying. Easy peasy. 

This soothing $8 lip balm has 2694 five-star reviews on Sephora and 953 five-star reviews on Amazon. Sounds like a winner to me. It has a light lemon scent that I love and is incredibly long-lasting. It also comes in a mint and shea butter flavor that is equally amazing.

This lip balm is super moisturizing thanks to raspberry and avocado.

This perfect balm comes in 14 shades, including clear, hot pink, berry, cherry red, and more. Impressively, it has 6691 five-star reviews on Sephora, with customers noting how it glides on smoothly, lasts a long time, and is incredibly moisturizing. It has truly done wonders for my constantly chapped lips. 

I am obsessed with EOS lip balm and I'm actually upset I didn't know the brand had a formula with SPF in it. I've tried dozens of lip balms and I keep coming back to EOS because I think it lasts incredibly long compared to many others. 

This is the ultimate budget buy at just $3. It's amazingly soothing and healing, just like all of Aquaphor's products. It's also a great choice if you want something fragrance-free. 

If you love Supergoop!'s other products, this one will win you over too. It comes in both mint and acai flavors and gets the job done well. 

5. Become a Hat Person

This tip is simple enough. I prefer either straw sunhats or baseball caps. I try to wear them as much as possible, including when I'm just running to the grocery store and back. The bonus perk? It saves your bad hair day.

I wear wide-brim hats all the time, including when I'm walking my dog. 

Another affordable winner from H&M. I love the contrast piping. 

Don't think straw hats are just for the beach. Your skin will thank you if you make it a habit to wear hats for mundane activities like running errands. 

Country club chic—no membership required. 

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