Action News brings a dermatologist to the beach

July 7, 2008 7:50:17 PM PDT
Experts say 90-percent of skin cancers are caused by sun exposure. But despite the statistics, thousands of sun-worshippers are still basking in the sunshine and dermatologists say just wearing sunscreen may not be enough to keep you safe.

It's summertime and thousands flock to the Jersey shore. Some come to hang out and some to play, but many come just to soak up the rays. "Most girls will tell you they look a lot better when they're tan," explained Amy Rush, 24, of Hoboken, New Jersey.

But looming in the shadows of Sea Isle City was something unexpected. No, it wasn't a shark, it was a dermatologist cruising the beach.

We invited Dr. Coyle Connolly of Connolly Skin Care to see first-hand how beach-goers spend their days and if and how they protect themselves from the sun. He even did some on-the-spot skin cancer checks.

"There's a larger, darker mole here," he told 22-year-old Mike Burke of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. "I was a little worried," Burke said.

After examining the spot, Dr. Connolly said it looks okay because it's symmetrical and has smooth, round edges. But he told Burke to keep it covered with a hat and also watch it for changes. Changes in moles or freckles can signal skin cancer.

"It might be a change in size or shape or color and maybe a spot that doesn't heal in a couple of months," Dr. Connolly said.

Skin cancer is on the rise. Dr. Connolly said one in every five people will get skin cancer throughout their lifetime. About 8,000 will die from melanoma this year.

Patricia Carr, of Cape May, N.J., lost her father to the deadly skin cancer when it spread to his brain. "It's something people don't pay much attention to? and they don't realize how it can take your life which it does and it doesn't take long," she said.

But while the risk is real, many still don't want to believe it, including beach-goer Mike Marino of Phoenixville. "Dr. Killjoy comes down here and starts hollering at us for being in the sun," he said as the doctor approached.

Dr. Connolly said he doesn't want to ruin anyone's fun, but he does want to spread his message and warn that people may be relying too much on just sunscreen. It may not be enough to keep you safe, even if you're dark-skinned, and especially if you freckle.

His prescription to keep you skin cancer-free also includes covering up, wearing lip balm with SPF, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses, and using an umbrella.

The good news is most parents we found are taking those precautions with their kids. Adam, Austin and Natalie Yeager 's mother reapplies heavy sunblock every 80 minutes. The kids also wear shirts with SPF.

But whether grown-ups will follow their lead remains to be seen. "Probably not right now, maybe in a couple years," one sunbather said.

As for the argument that we need sunshine to make enough Vitamin D, Dr. Connolly said that only requires a few minutes a day. He said there's no such thing as a healthy tan. Even if you don't burn, any color is damage and as it accumulates over the years so does your risk of skin cancer.

Connolly Dermatology has several locations down the shore and in Voorhees, N.J.

For more information on skin cancer: