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What’s the Difference Between SPF and UPF?

Did you know there’s a difference between SPF and UPF? Both have something to do with keeping your skin protected from the sun but mean very different things. Sunlight includes rays of invisible ultraviolet (UV) radiation; overexposure to UV rays can lead to sunburn, accelerated skin aging and skin cancer. Sun protective clothing and sunscreen offer your main forms of UV protection but are rated two different ways with SPF and UPF.

UPF is the standard used to measure the effectiveness of sun protective fabrics. UPF stands for “Ultraviolet Protection Factor” and indicates how much of the sun’s UV radiation penetrates a fabric and reaches the skin. UPF is associated with fabric and you will see a UPF rating from 15-50 associated with products that claim that they are sun protective. A fabric with a rating of 50 will allow only 1/50th of the sun’s UV rays to pass through. This means the fabric will reduce your skin’s UV radiation exposure significantly because only 2 percent of the UV rays will get through. This also means that it blocks both UVA and UVB rays while SPF only takes the UVB rays into account.

SPF is a standard used to measure the effectiveness of sunscreen. SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor”. It measures the amount of time it takes for sun-exposed skin to redden, while UPF measures the amount of UV radiation that penetrates a fabric and reaches the skin. Remember that SPF only accounts for UVB rays unless specifically stated as a broad-spectrum sunscreen.

Here is a visual breakdown of the two compared to each other.

As you can see when you are trying to keep your skin protected it is important to know the different rating systems. Many skin-care experts believe clothing shields skin more effectively from UV light than sunscreen. Many of us often apply sunscreen lotions too thinly, giving our skin less protection than the sunscreen’s available SPF rating, and we neglect to reapply it as directed by the specific sunscreen that we use.

To receive The Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation, sun-protective fabrics must have a minimum UPF of 30. They consider a UPF rating of 30-49 to offer very good protection and 50+ excellent protection. Coolibar was the first clothing brand to receive the Skin Cancer Foundation’s Seal of Recommendation. All of our clothing is rated UPF 50+, with protection that will never wash out.

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Sun Protection Clothing Wear Sun Protection What's Hot

UPF 50+ Outfit Makeover

Helen Vong, skin care guru at theskiny.com, came to us with a brilliant SunAWARE idea. “Let’s do a Coolibar UPF 50+ outfit makeover to show how easy it is to be protected from the sun.” Who are we to argue?

“After writing a magazine story about the aging effects of the sun, back in the early spring, I decided that this (now past) summer is going to be year I start changing my ways. Why? Well frankly, I’m getting older and my skin isn’t bouncing back like it did from weekend trips to the cottage.

Like most people I only really wore sunscreen on vacation, and in my twenties, I went on my fair share of sun escapes – and I have the sunspots to prove it. In fact, I’ve got a newly formed speckle on my lower lip that wasn’t there last year (thank you, Ibiza). After age 30 you can’t get away with calling these spots ‘cute freckles’ anymore.

Helen Vong Before and After Coolibar

Consider this photo taken last summer at the hotel lobby at the Thompson in Beverly Hills (before picture). At first glance, you’d think I was being sun smart with a wide brimmed hat and long sleeved button up shirt. Truth is, that flimsy hat was a cheapie from Walmart with absolutely no sun filter. The shirt was also a bargain that was useless against the scorching UVA rays (think of the “A” as for aging) I surely soaked in that weekend.

I guess I could’ve wore clothing with sun protection, but I’ve long equated anti-sun clothing as frumpy athletic gear. And who wants to look blah on Rodeo Drive? In retrospect, I wish I knew about Coolibar, back then. This company makes sun-protective apparel look sexy! I particularly fell in love with their sun hats. My dermatologist, Dr. Lisa Kellett, says that size matters when it comes to the brim of an effective sun hat: six inches is the way to go.”

Helen took her look and gave it a UPF 50+ makeover (after picture).

Visit theskiny to see Helen’s full review: http://theskiny.com/shun-the-sun-in-style/

See all Coolibar’s UPF 50+ women’s sun hats and women’s clothing for your sun protective makeover.

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Inside Coolibar What's Hot

One UPF 50 Shirt, Five Looks

One of Coolibar’s favorite go to stylists Bridgette Raes recently created a blog post on styling the basic white t-shirt. We thought it was such a great idea, our Coolibar stylists translated it to UPF 50+ with our white ZnO Long Sleeve T-Shirt! View our outfit ideas below and you’ll realize UPF 50+ sunwear works with almost any outfit.

Take it to work…

Take it on the town…

Take it to dinner…

Take it to yoga…

Then wear it all weekend…

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Inside Coolibar Sun Protection Clothing What's Hot

Style Expert Bridgette Raes on Summer Trends in UPF 50+

Since 2002, Style Expert Bridgette Raes has transformed the wardrobes and styles of hundreds of clients. She is the president of Bridgette Raes Style Group in New York and author of the book Style Rx: Dressing the Body You Have to Create the Body You Want. Her witty, down-to-earth and educational advice has made her a sought-after writer, spokesperson and style expert for many media outlets. Now, Bridgette brings her expertise to the Coolibar Blog to show us how to prepare our wardrobe for warmer weather in a trend setting way.

The warm weather is here!  It’s time to get out and enjoy the sun.  Getting enough sunshine is important for your health and wellbeing, but too much sun can be very dangerous.  With Skin Cancer Awareness month this May, I thought it was important to write a blog that showed you how you can safely enjoy the sun this summer….while still looking fabulous.     

I decided to take some of Coolibar’s more popular pieces, all that have UPF 50+ and 98% UV Protection to show you just how easy it can be this summer to look good and care for your skin at the same time.

For this first look, I took Coolibar’s ZnO Harbor Hoodie in a classic navy and white stripe and paired it with some trendy red cropped pants.  Colored pants are so popular for summer and the overall look, worn with a pair of metallic wedges and an easy tote offers a timeless nautical style that is perfect for summer, be it for boating, going to the beach, the park or attending a barbecue with friends.  

 

Bright colored tunics and color blocking are two big trends right now. To address both, I took Coolibar’s ZnO Bayside Tunic and paired it with white Bermuda shorts and a pair of bright green sandals.  For more protection, I added Coolibar’s very versatile Sun Hat.  This is a great look that can be worn for just about anything you may be doing out and about this summer from a day out sightseeing to a casual dinner out with your mate.

 

For the beach, Coolibar’s Print Ruche Swim Shirt in this trendy zebra print is so exciting.  Not only can the chlorine and salt-water resistant swim shirt be cinched up and worn in the water, but it can also be worn as a tunic-length cover-up.  For additional sun protection (and style) can throw on Coolibar’s Packable Wide Brim Hat and a pair of their fabulous sunglasses.  Yellow is  one of the “it” colors for summer.  I went with a trendier yellow for that extra punch.  Lastly, a black straw bag and you can take from the beach to the street with this two-for-one piece.

 

In the summer, most of us get outside to exercise.  Often when working out we don’t think about how the sun could be damaging our skin.   There is a way to look stylish and be sun protected while getting your heart rate up.  Coolibar’s Swim Bike Run Jacket that has stylish contrast piping gives you a high performance jacket that can also be worn in the water.  Paired with their swim active capris and one of their fabulous hats, I threw in some additional pink accessories to inspire you to get out and get moving…while protecting yourself. 

 

Lastly, a tank top and capri jeans.  Who doesn’t have this look in their wardrobe for summer?  It is important to point out that if you’re looking to protect yourself from the sun this summer it does not mean that you have to get rid of your entire wardrobe.  Coolibar offers great ways to add protection to your existing style.  Every woman owns at least one cardigan in her wardrobe.  It’s a great piece to grab when you get chilly.  I love Coolibar’s ZnO Sun Wrap, particularly in their olive fatigue, which works so well with the most popular color of the summer season, orange!!!!  Worn with a pair of sandals, and one of Coolibar’s protective sun hats, you’ll be styling and saving your skin at the same time.

Shop Coolibar UPF 50+ Trends

Listen to Bridgette Raes on her radio talk show “Where Are You Going In That?” as she talks about Melanoma Month, the Melanoma Research Foundation and Coolibar.

Listen to internet radio with BridgetteRaes on Blog Talk Radio

 

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Inside Coolibar

Top 10 Favorite Holiday Gifts by the Coolibar Team

The Holiday season is here, and you know what that means… trying to find the perfect gift. To get inspired for what you may want to get your loved ones, we caught up with some of the Team on what THEIR favorite products are here at Coolibar!

Anne – Chief Brand Officer

Favorite Activities: Weekend mornings sitting on the deck reading, Hiking, Nordic Skiing

Top Product Choice: Wyatt Bucket Hat

My go-to gift is hats because everyone needs a good one for sun protection and, in my opinion, you can never have too many! I like to gift bucket hats because they are easy to wear with anything and flatter most face shapes. Hats are generally easy to guess the right size too. My current favorite is the Wyatt bucket hat. It’s stylish without being trendy, packable and super lightweight. I personally have it in multiple prints. BTW, the Wyatt is technically a men’s hat, but there are quite a few of us women at Coolibar that don’t discriminate when it comes to hats. If the hat fits, we want it!

Kristen – Director of Brand

Favorite Activities: Traveling, Getting outside, enjoying the lakes and hanging with friends!

Top Product Choice: Maho Weekend Pants

I seriously live in these pants. They are an easy breezy throw on and I love the fit and, of course, the sun protection. They are perfect for chilling on the sofa or getting out for a walk. Having a dog that loves lake walks, it is great knowing that I am not only comfortable but protected by the sun, when I go out these. I know own several pairs and am gifting a pair to my sister for the holidays!

Monica – Ecommerce Manager

Favorite Activities: Gardening, Curating Cats, Extreme House-planting

Top Product Choice: Women’s Daybreak Swing Top

For me, the weekends are when I get stuff done. I don’t like to waste time thinking about what I am going to wear when I wake up in the morning – that’s what Monday through Friday is for. I have found that no matter what I end up doing, if I grab one of my Daybreak Swing Tops, I am set for the day. All I need to do is decide which color to wear (I have 5 … and 1 more pending.) I am on the taller side and like my tops more tunic-like. But the problem with some tunics is that they are boxy or shapeless and that does me no favors. This top being fitted at the chest makes me feel somewhat tailored (for a t-shirt) but it is forgiving in all the right places. It basically checks all my boxes and that is not easy to do.

Hayden – Social Media Manager

Favorite Activities: Golfing, Being on the lake with my friends, Traveling

Top Product Choice: Agility Performance Pullover

It seems like I constantly have plans 24/7 and honestly, sun protection sometimes becomes an afterthought. My solution? I legitimately own 4 of our Agility Performance Pullovers in different colors and will wear it for any and every occasion! From heading out to the course to meeting some friends at a brewery, you will find me with this top!

Leslie – Manager, Organizational Effectiveness

Favorite Activities: Fishing (lakes + deep sea), cycling, downhill skiing, and traveling.

Top Product Choice: Women’s Paros Sailing Tee + Men’s Andros Fishing Tee

My husband and I LOVE to fish in the MN summers and when winter comes along, we are off to somewhere warm to do some more fishing. We don’t leave the house without our Paros and Andros tee’s so we can enjoy the sun while on the boat for 8-12 hours at a time. These are our “go-to” shirts because the technical fabrics keep us cool and protect us from harmful UV rays, at the same time.

Mariah- Merchandising Specialist

Favorite Activities: Going to the lake, Exploring with my dogs, Anything outside

Top Product Choice: Tatum Convertible Explorer Hat

I LOVE being able to spend time outside, especially if my dogs are around! Which normally means I am going for long walks or spending hours by the lake watching them play! My Tatum Convertible Explorer Hat it is so easy to grab and go when running out of the house, plus it is convertible so I can adjust the amount of coverage I need throughout the day or depending on activity!

Denzell – Medical Professional Consultant

Favorite Activities: Running, building things, reading, working out and hanging with friends and family

Top Product: Erodym Long Sleeve Golf Polo

One of my favorite shirts in my closet is my Coolibar Erodym polo shirt. Whether I’m at work, headed to the course or hanging with friends, this is my go-to “no brainer” shirt. Because of its elegance and functionality, I don’t have to worry about fit, compromising comfort or performance, and I get to look good and feel protected.

Lacey – Lead, Merchant

Favorite Activities: Golfing, Traveling, Rock Climbing, Biking, Hiking

Top Product Choice: Motio Joggers

Sun protection is a big priority for me because of skin sensitives and genetic history. I find it difficult to remember sun protection for my legs though. So, my solution is an amazing sun protection bottom that you can live in! The Motio joggers are lightweight, stretchy, and have excellent moisture wicking properties. I use these pants outdoor running, long days hiking and climbing, biking around the city, running errands on the weekend, travelling, and just lounging around. I wear them everywhere!

Kat – Business Unit Lead (Hats, Ultimate Coverage)

Favorite Activities: Anything outdoors and adventurous!

Top Product Choice: Lenny Sport Cap

Living in the Midwest, it is very important to me to spend time outside when the weather is nice! The Lenny hat’s oversized brim protects my face if I am out on the lake, hiking, or watching my nieces and nephews’ games. It comes in multiple colorways so it always pairs well with any outfit and is adjustable for added comfort.

Kelsey – Social Media Specialist

Favorite Activities: Golfing, Kayaking, and Traveling

Top Product Choice: Devi Long Sleeve T-Shirt

Whenever the weather is nice, I always try to take advantage of it by being outside. I never have trouble remembering sun-protection but reapplying is where I struggle… Our Devi Long Sleeve T-shirt solves this problem of mine with its built-in sun protection that keeps me covered all day long. 10/10 recommend this to all my friends and family!

Looking for more ideas? Check out our Holiday Gift Guide.
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Skin Diaries

74-Year-Old Instagram Influencer Embraces Sun Safety and Aging

My name is Candace, but most know me as Leslie B from my Instagram channel Style in Your 70’s with Leslie B. I started my channel to help women embrace aging with grace and optimism. After all, ‘aging is changing’, and that’s a good thing. When I started posting, I was 72 and had been a model, then a wife, mother, grandmother, and I was ready to share with everyone the joy and enthusiasm I was feeling for my evolution. I wanted to help everyone feel vibrant at any age.

I share a lot of health and wellness tips, but I focus a lot on protecting your skin. I come from a generation that had no idea that the sun was bad for you. It never occurred to anyone back in the 50s and 60s that we needed to protect ourselves from the sun. Not only did we spread baby oil all over our skin to intensify the sun’s effects, we bought Sun Lamps to use inside when we could not be in the sun! Like many of the women I grew up with, I unknowingly made myself more susceptible to skin damage and cancer. I had my first brush with skin cancer at age 48.

I had a very itchy spot on my leg and just kept assuming it would go away. Thanks to the spread of information on skin cancers at the time, I was well enough informed to know that this needed to be looked at. I was told that it was a Squamous Cell Carcinoma and had it removed by a dermatologist.

This experience inspired me to start being more sun-safe. I first started to gradually incorporate sunscreen into my makeup. But still, for many years I did not use sunscreen all over my body.  For a long, while I worked as a model, the fashion and advertising industry continued to promote models and actresses with bronzed bodies. We weren’t hearing enough about how we were damaging our skin.

Then, two years ago when I was 72, I again noticed a suspicious spot on my other leg. Again, the biopsy came back Squamous Cell but this time it was more serious and needed a more extensive surgery, so I chose to go to a MOH’s trained surgeon where they were able to take as little skin as possible and test at the time of the surgery to make sure there were clear margins. It required about 26 stitches and a long healing process. Not even a month later I noticed another suspicious spot a couple of inches from the first one. Another biopsy revealed I had yet another Squamous Cell. While the first surgery was still healing, I went back to have surgery again.

At this point, sun protection became a much more significant part of my life—and my family’s.  Wearing sunscreen and sun protective clothing from Coolibar has become part of our everyday lives. I am very vigilant about checking my body regularly for other skin cancers, and I visit my dermatologist every four months for a full body check. I consider myself very lucky that so far, my cancers were all easily treated. Having had these cancers I know that there is a high likelihood that there may be more in my future. Hopefully, by being well informed, using SPF products and sun protective clothing that is guaranteed UPF 50, I can minimize my chances of developing more skin cancers in the future. By learning to choose only high-quality products like Coolibar and by becoming educated that not all UPF is created equal, I can help spread this knowledge to so many!

The one thing I want my followers to take away from my posts and my story are that aging isn’t a negative thing. There is so much we can do to care for our minds and our bodies that help us age and change gracefully. Protecting our skin is one of them. So go out there! Break all the rules and myths you’ve heard about the downside to aging. Put on your sun protection and have fun!

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Dee Conway

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, my family spent most of our days in the water. The sun here is always shining brightly (after all it’s known as Valley of the Sun) and summers are long and hot. Swimming has always been a wonderful way to get out of the house and cool off. When I was young, my family would escape the city heat by going on camping trips or hiking the cool forests in Northern Arizona. We loved looking for caves and playing in mountain streams. During my teenage years I started driving to the lake with friends. I continued to be carefree and have fun in the sun!

Skin cancer touched my life for the first time in August 2002, when I was 24. My husband and I were expecting our first child and had noticed three moles grow substantially during my pregnancy. Luckily, I decided to pay my first visit to the dermatologist. The moles were benign. Good news! Even better, I started scheduling annual skin checks and giving myself monthly self-exams.

Since that initial check, I’ve had more moles removed than I can count. My dermatologist had started calling me ‘Holy Moley’ thanks to all my biopsy’s. At 29, a mole was removed from my back that came back as a ‘severe dysplastic nevus’ which meant the mole was very close to becoming cancer. At 29 years old, I was close to getting cancer!! I was shocked, but even after this, I still was not protecting my skin enough. I increased my use of sunscreen, but I should have been more diligent.

Fast forward to April 10, 2018, my 34-year-old sister Rose was diagnosed with melanoma. A tan mole that was smaller than a pencil eraser on the back of her neck was catching on her shirts and had started to itch. After further tests, they found melanoma in her lymph nodes and Rose decided to go through with a neck dissection where 40 lymph nodes would be removed for even more testing. 2018 quickly turned into the year we spent at the hospital…

Memorial Day weekend 2018, my vibrant, active husband was experiencing extreme fatigue, unlike anything I had ever seen. He had been recently diagnosed with pneumonia, but the antibiotics weren’t working. The following week, he ended up in the ICU with a 104-degree fever and a mysterious illness that was causing his oxygen levels to drop. Then a little over a week later, June 7, 2018, my husband was put on a ventilator as Rose went in for her neck dissection. Results confirmed she had Stage IIIB, Nodular Melanoma BRAF+.

While Rose recovered from her surgery, my husband’s condition worsened. He needed to be transferred via helicopter to another hospital to be put on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation ECMO. My husband was experiencing complete pulmonary failure. While Rose healed, she spent every day at the hospital with me. She was in the lobby when I arrived every morning. She was a microbiologist, so she researched her condition and assured me that treatments were advancing, and she’d be okay, and helped me focus on my husband and navigate and understand his treatments. After 39 days in the hospital, my husband finally recovered. The mysterious illness was Valley Fever, a fungal infection caused by coccidiosis organisms found in the Southwest of the United States. Shortly thereafter, Rose started immunotherapy (OPDIVO), which she called ‘a living hell’. By August, Rose had pain in her hip to the point where she couldn’t run or exercise. In mid-September, her treatments were on hold due to extremely elevated liver enzymes. By late September, she was admitted to the hospital due to extreme abdomen pain and bloating. It was then that an ultrasound discovered a spot on her liver and a biopsy confirmed more melanoma. Her scans showed widespread disease She had a rare condition known as Hyperprogressive Disease (HPD) which causes the cancer to grow aggressively instead of shrink. My heart was broken and I was in shock. Our last hope was BRAF & MEK inhibitors. Unfortunately, by the time they arrived, Rose was entering liver failure and visible decline. Six months from Rose’s initial melanoma diagnosis, she passed away on October 9, 2018 at the age of 35.

After losing Rose, my family started annual skin checks. An older brother of mine found out three months after she passed that he had melanoma in situ (meaning on the top layer of the skin) and basal cell carcinoma. In 2019, I had two atypical melanocytic proliferations on my face. We were both lucky to have detected these spots early! During my most recent check one of my biopsies came back as squamous cell carcinoma. My first skin cancer diagnosis…DEEP BREATH! We ultimately decided chemo cream would be best to treat the area and I completed the treatment at the end of January 2021.

After everything we went through as a family, Rose has always held a precious place in my heart and life. I’ve managed my grief by honoring Rose by spreading awareness of skin cancer and educating people on the need for protection and prevention. I encourage everyone to…

  1. Wear sunscreen daily and reapply often.
  2. Use UPF 50+ apparel! It has become my go-to for all outdoor activities.
  3. Wear a hat! They’re a great accessory and protection for your scalp.
  4. Perform monthly self-checks and if you see something, get it checked!
  5. Don’t forget to schedule your annual skin checks with a board-certified Dermatologist.

I do not believe in fearing the sun but being smarter than the sun. This is a preventable cancer, and I don’t want anyone else to experience the pain everyone who loved Rose still feels. Rose was so much more than a young woman who died of melanoma. Everyone that loved her will continue to carry her with us and do our part in sharing her story. My sister and her story save lives.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Todd Ring

I, like so many others, have been worn down by everything this past couple of years. Yes, I have been down dark paths in my mind and thankfully am always able to see light and move back towards positivity so as not to be constantly and completely consumed by it. The pandemic has made it more difficult for sure, but that is just the tip of the iceberg.

My skin health journey began with tremendous loss and heartbreak, guilt and anger. However, this catalyst has kept me focused and driven for the past two years. Allow me to elaborate as I appear to be open to so many, those that know me best know I keep all of my most intense thoughts and feelings solely to myself.

In April 2018, my sister Rose was diagnosed with nodular melanoma. She was always a fighter, so she immediately was on the warpath and was very aggressive with her treatment plan. I knew she was preoccupied with her battle and she was busy. I believed we’d had more time to truly catch up later. We’d have another weekend or family gathering or we’d get around for a cocktail. I kept putting off my want to just hang out with my sister, there would be a better time later.

I was never able to have that last conversation with my sister in person. In September 2018, I was extremely short of breath which was causing panic attacks. I had never experienced anything like this. 27 years of heavy smoking—something I did fully knowing the damage it does—had left my lungs weakened and prone to infections. I had walking pneumonia, and severely damaged lungs and I would be diagnosed with early COPD. At that time, Rose was in the hospital, her body racked with pain and ailments unknown, but she was still in good spirits. Because of my pneumonia I wasn’t allowed into her ward.  

When she was moved to a room in hospice in October, I was finally allowed to be with her. The morphine conversations were short and of no real importance, but I was still glad to have them with her. She had two requests of me in those final days; to quit smoking and to take my skin health seriously with annual skin exams.

I had my last cigarette and first full body skin exam late February 2019. Both milestones were much simpler than I’d expected. I had been to dermatologists before and had a couple biopsies, an excision or two, but no one ever seemed overly concerned with my skin.

This visit was different. Three biopsies and a pretty positive experience, almost routine feeling in a strange way. I should have felt so much different due to my recent loss and family history, but I actually enjoyed it. Possibly because I was doing it for Rose. I mean, I just let someone thoroughly and meticulously examine every inch of me… with a light and magnifier. I have been pretty modest about my body most of my life but somehow, I was fine with this.

I got a call a week later with my results on March 4, 2019, which seemed odd because they told me to call them in two weeks. The person on the phone was in good spirits as she told me my results one at a time so I could jot them down.

  • Left mid back: dysplastic nevus with moderate atypia
  • Left upper back: dysplastic nevus with moderate atypia…

I was thinking to myself “what in the hell does that mean? Maybe I should write this down!” And then my world dropped into slow motion, my ears felt like I was under water, everything around me blurred…

  • Mid clavicle: melanoma…. static

I heard nothing else for what seemed like a minute. When my brain slowly began processing what was being said again, I was booking an appointment for a slow Mohs procedure in six weeks. She was so polite yet nonchalant about the bomb she dropped on me like it was no big deal. Clearly, she didn’t understand, she didn’t know my history, she didn’t know.

I was working at the time and had taken the call with a client in my chair. I walked back into the shop, sat down and quickly covered the work I had done on my clients tattoo so far with a bandage. I told her I had to go home to talk to my wife. I had to leave. Luckily, she could sense something was wrong and my insistence was justified. I called my wife and told her I was heading home and to meet me. I would explain at the house.

When we got home, I somehow managed to get the words out through the tears and cracking speech. The amount of guilt I felt at this moment would only be matched at one other point in my life so far. After a minute or so of consoling me, she began to take charge, which is what I needed. She quickly called the scheduling department and got me an appointment in two days instead of the six weeks. She handled it all like a seasoned veteran. Now, I could focus on what I had to do, tell my family and my children.

I didn’t want to bring up all the pain and fear that we all just gone through. I decided to tell my sister Dee first as she was the most knowledgeable in the family after researching so much with Rose. She asked a ton of questions which I had so few answers for, but she gave Rachael and I a better idea of what to ask the doctor at my next appointment. At my slow Mohs procedure, I learned it was melanoma in-situ, essentially the earliest stage of melanoma. We caught it very early. Good looking out Rose, message received. All of the melanoma was removed in the first procedure. In the following weeks, I had both of the other biopsied moles excised without any complications or surprises, both tested with clear margins.

In the past two years, I have had total of 37 biopsies, one melanoma in-situ, 15 dysplastic nevus with varying atypia, and two basal cell carcinoma removed. I credit my sister for saving my life. I now use my job to educate and encourage others to get skin checks annually. I promote skin health through proper use of SPF sunblock and UPF clothing. This goes hand-in-hand with what I do for a living already, excessive sun exposure fades tattoos. Due to my sister’s story and me advocating for skin exams, two of my friends have also discovered they had melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. Rose just keeps saving lives.

It is not about fearing the sun or your skin, it is a matter of respecting the sun and protecting your skin. There is no restriction when it comes to outdoor activities with proper preparation.

Thank you for the inspiration Rose. ❤️

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Rae McKeating

Today, I have a smile on my face. I open the door, eager to leave the dermatologist office, and I am greeted by morning sun. I finally have a clean bill of health! No biopsies, no cuts, no burns, no stitches. Being proactive is paying off! 

As a Southern California baby boomer, I was raised by parents who enjoyed time on the beach—in the ocean and relaxing poolside. Despite my fair skin, I equated being tan with being attractive and healthy. As a young adult, I was aware of sunscreen, but not diligent in using it.

I was in my 30’s when a doctor noticed that I had a growth on my upper arm. The doctor cut it out, stitched me up, I left his office and didn’t give my skin another thought. I ignored what should have been an opportunity to learn and take better care of my skin. To be proactive.

Fast forward twenty years. I noticed a tiny red spot near the tip of my nose. I treated it the way I used to treat things I didn’t like, I ignored it. My failure to act was a big mistake. Eventually, the spot bled, which led me to a dermatologist who prescribed a strong cream to apply over a few weeks. A year later the red spot returned, again bleeding. A different dermatologist took a biopsy, explained I had squamous cell carcinoma and referred me to a dermatologist/plastic surgeon’s office. The four-hour MOHS surgery on the tip of my nose was the wake-up call I needed to pay diligent attention to my skin.

A few years later, in my 60’s, I noticed a new small growth on the top of my left hand. Within a week I went to see my primary physician who referred me to a dermatologist. Again, the biopsy result was cancer. Similar to my nose surgery, the MOHS surgery on top of my hand was also in an area where there is little skin, resulting in a long healing time.

Then, last summer in 2020, I noticed a new small spot on my nose. I immediately called the dermatologist who saw me within days. He found two other spots on my face to biopsy, all three were cancers. Soon thereafter I had MOHS surgery on my nose and check.

Thanks to all of these spots and surgeries, I diligently check my skin for new growths all the time and take immediate action on any spots I believe are problematic. My wardrobe is also roughly 75% UPF 50+ from Coolibar. I wear long sleeve tops that also protect the tops of my hands and leggings, long pants or long skirts everywhere along with hats and face make-up with sunscreen. To me, it’s the same as getting the Covid-19 vaccine to make me feel more protected. Wearing Coolibar gives me confidence knowing my skin is better protected. Be proactive, not inactive.

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Skin Diaries This is Brave

This is Brave: Taylor Runkel

My melanoma story started when I was twenty-four and only a few years into my professional and young adult life. I was working full-time as a Human Resources Generalist in downtown Saint Paul and teaching dance part-time in White Bear Lake. The theme of my life was busy, busy, busy. I had spent the first part of 2019 travelling to college career fairs for work. It wasn’t until April that I finally got in to see the dermatologist to check on an eczema breakout on my hands. Here is my timeline…

April 11, 2019:  I went into the dermatologist to get eczema cream and have a mole on my calf looked at. The perfect way to describe the mole was that it was the size and height of the eraser on a #2 pencil. It started bothering me sometime in the Fall of 2018. I couldn’t remember if it was flat or if there was anything there before, but suddenly it was really raised and was annoying me because I would have to be careful shaving my leg around it.  The dermatologist inspected it and felt that it wasn’t anything overly concerning. Thankfully, she had it scraped and biopsied. 

April 16, 2019: After my appointment, I forgot about the biopsy. I went right back to working and staying busy. When they called to give me my results, I actually ignored it because I was in a meeting, and then just went about my day. At 4:45pm, I finally listened to the voicemail from the dermatologist office letting me know I needed to call them back to walk through my results. Their phone lines closed at 4:30pm, so I would have to call back the next morning.

My gut dropped, I knew something wasn’t right, but I finished my workday, then went to teach dance at night.  The nerves were there all night. I decided to stay at my parents that night, just so I could have my Mom with me to call in the morning.

April 17, 2019: At 7:59:59am my mom and I called the office together. For the first time I heard, “Taylor, your biopsy came back as Melanoma, I’m so sorry”.  I didn’t even really hear the rest of the conversation. Thankfully, my Mom was there to listen. Having someone to help you absorb information at every appointment is huge!

Cancer was in my life… and it was associated with my name. They couldn’t give me any more information other than telling me I would need surgery and I was being referred to a Plastic Surgeon who specialized in Melanoma.

April 18, 2019:  We met with Dr. Economou at 10:00am. He walked through the pathology of my mole. It was slow growing (3 on a scale of 10). At the intermediate depth range 2.33mm with no aggressive features. He explained that melanoma is spread by the lymph system, so my lymph nodes in my left groin would need to be checked. From just feeling for swelling/hardness, he didn’t feel anything, so we were feeling positive that they would be clean. Of course, I had spent the previous night googling (a horrible idea) and I knew that if the cancer had left my leg, it could be anywhere in my body, and the anxiety was terrifying.

He explained that he would be removing an area of skin on my lower leg around the mole and that I would have a full-thickness skin graft. The skin would come from the incision site on my groin where they would remove a lymph node to be biopsied. Surgery was scheduled for the next Tuesday at Abbott Northwestern.

April 23, 2019: My “posse” (Mom, Dad, stepdad Tony, and my boyfriend Charlie) and I arrived at the hospital for my appointment. First step of the process was to have a radioactive dye injected into the mole site, where it would travel up my leg and light up the lymph node that the ankle was ‘first’ supported by. While I didn’t acquire any superpowers from the radioactive dye, my X-Ray did show that two lymph lighting up meaning both may have to be removed.

My posse and I checked in at the surgery center and waited for the doctors to take me back. My surgery team introduced themselves (they were the BEST most caring people) and made me feel so supported and reassured. I was hooked up to my IVs, gave my posse a hug and a kiss, and walked to the OR. (Side Note: I was that teenage girl that sobbed like a toddler from the anesthesia for my wisdom teeth removal. Apparently, that happens when you’re really nervous.)

I walked in and saw all the machines, instruments, and bed that I was going to be asleep on. When they asked me “How are you doing?” the only think I could say was “ahhhh well this isn’t like Grey’s Anatomy.” They reassured me by saying “Nope! We’re real doctors!”.  I laid down on the bed and was hooked up to many machines and the tears started to come. Luckily, the nurse anesthetist asked me about Charlie, and I talked about him and how happy he makes me until I was asleep. After surgery, Dr. Economou explained that he removed two lymph nodes (which would be HUGE for me later on). I had a pressurized bandage stitched to my skin graft and a boot on to ensure my calf had no movement. It was over!

April 25, 2019:  After a lot of pain the day after surgery, switching to stronger pain meds, and almost passing out the first time I saw my groin incision, I was recovering at home and got the results of my biopsies. The margins around the mole were clean. The second lymph node (farther away from the mole) was clean. The first lymph node was not, it had seven individual cancer cells. They weren’t multiplying/dividing yet, but they were there. This meant that I was officially in the Stage III Melanoma category.

Dr. Economou reassured me that, other than being able to say that the lymphs were both clean, this was the next best outcome. We were hopeful that since no cancer cells had gone to the second lymph, the rest of my body was clean. I would have to get a PET/CT scan to confirm. I would also meet with an oncologist to discuss immunotherapy, and a general surgeon to discuss more lymph nodes being removed.

April 30, 2019: I had my PET/CT scan.

May 1, 2019:  I got the call that there was ‘no evidence of disease’ – marking the first anniversary I hope to celebrate the rest of my life.  TODAY – March 1, 2021: Since 2019 a lot in my life has changed. The year after I was declared NED, I underwent a year of immunotherapy—Keytruda (pembromiliza)—and worked on just getting through it. I finally had a chance to create space for myself to process all that had happened.

The biggest change for me was leaving HR – I took time to evaluate what was important to me in a career long term, and I went back to one of my original passions in undergrad. I wanted to become a therapist. I was accepted into graduate school at UMN in the Summer of 2020 and am now in my second semester of their Integrated Behavioral Health program. It’s the first step to becoming an LPCC (licensed professional clinical counselor). I even started working part-time as a health unit coordinator at Regions Hospital. I’m also looking to buy my first house with Charlie, who was the best supporter throughout my entire journey for me and my parents. My habits have changed too. I started buying and wearing UPF 50+ clothing and I tell anyone who is willing to listen about sun safety! Internally, the gift of coming to terms with your own mortality at 24 makes it much easier to say ‘no’ to the things that don’t bring me joy, to practice gratitude every day, and allow myself to show up just as I am. I’ve come to love my scars as they show strength, I never knew I would have, along with an appreciation for my body that is so much deeper than my skin’s surface.

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