Category Archives: Skin Cancer

How Does Sunscreen Work?

Everyone knows that the sun’s ultraviolet rays and human skin don’t get along. Sunscreens are a given today. We know that if we’re going to be out on a hike to Wahclella Falls, skiing at Mt. Hood, or playing golf at Eastmoreland putting on sunscreen is as important as the equipment such as hiking boots or a sand wedge.

But it wasn’t always that way. If you’re in your upper 50s or 60s now, you probably remember when the first sunscreens were introduced. The first true sunscreen was called Glacier Cream and later became Piz Buin (which still makes sunscreen lotions today), and it was developed in 1946 by a Swiss chemist. But when Coppertone (the name says it all) came on the market in the 50s, sunscreen lotion began to grow. Of course, it’s estimated now that the early Glacier Cream and Coppertone products had an SPF of 2! Not much protection there.

Today’s sunscreens have come a long way. Now they’re waterproof (for a while) with effective SPFs of 50 (it’s thought that any SPF over that doesn’t provide any more protection).

Since we’re big fans of protecting your skin at the Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery, here’s a little primer on how your sunscreen blocks the sun from damaging your skin.

Inorganic versus organic

Sunscreens come in sprays, lotions, gels, or waxes, and are made of a mix of chemicals. Inorganic chemicals in sunscreen can reflect or scatter the light away from the skin. Organic (carbon-based) chemicals can absorb UV rays so that your skin doesn’t.

Some of the early inorganic chemicals included minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide and they acted as physical sunblocks. To be effective, they had to be covering the skin, hence the white noses of people on the beach in the 80s and 90s. The minerals reflected the sun’s UV rays back off the skin just as white paint reflects light. Today’s inorganic particles are much smaller, so users don’t have to look as if they’re covered with white frosting.

Organic chemicals used in sunscreens have names such as avobenzone and oxybenzone. These chemicals don’t reflect or deflect the UV rays; they absorb them. They do this with chemical bonds. As the bonds absorb UV radiation, the components of the sunscreen slowly break down and release heat. This is why these sunscreens have an effective time limit at which point the user would need to reapply.


The sun is delivering two types of ultraviolet rays onto your skin, UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays cause sunburns. For a long time, these were the only rays that sunscreens protected against, as their effects were obvious on lobster-red skin. UVB rays affect the epidermis, the skin’s outer layer.

More recently, the effects of UVA rays have come into focus. UVA rays penetrate the epidermis into the dermis, the skin’s second layer. It’s thought that UVA rays damage the skin longer term with premature wrinkling, age spots, and other issues. UVA rays don’t cause sunburn, though, so they’re not as obvious.

SPF is how you can judge the protection level of a sunscreen. It stands for Sun Protection Factor, and it refers to how well the sunscreen protects the user against UVB rays. Obviously, SPF came before UVA rays were understood. Now, any sunscreen worth a thing is labeled “broad spectrum,” and it protects against both UVB and UVA rays.

It’s recommended to use broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF between 15 and 50. A sunscreen with SPF 15 protects against about 93 percent of the sun’s UVB rays; SPF 30 blocks 97 percent. No sunscreen provides a 100 percent block.

So, there’s some sunscreen information from your friends at the Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery. Put on that sunscreen and get out there in our beautiful Oregon outdoors. But remember to get your skin checked for skin cancer with Dr. Gasch and our team here once a year. Call us at (503) 297-3440 to make your appointment.

Medical Dermatology Hillsboro, OR

Skin Protection Truth and Myth

Medical Dermatology Hillsboro, ORIn the Pacific Northwest, we’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, and we’re not shy about getting out there and enjoying it. That means we get our fair share of sun exposure, despite our rainy Portland reputation. Most of us are cognizant about the sun and our skin, but the information’s not always correct.

Since we want our Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery patients to be in the know about all things skin, let’s see if you know these common topics about our largest organ, our skin..


These two acronyms are ubiquitous on sunscreen bottles, but they’re not even remotely the same. Some labels say the sunscreen blocks UVB rays. Others say they are broad based. You need a sunscreen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays. Why? They both are beating up your skin. UVA rays penetrate the epidermis and affect the dermis beneath, causing your skin to age and creating the beginnings of skin cancer. UVB rays cause sunburn on the epidermis and also lead to the topical skin cancer lesions.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer

This is true. In the U.S. over one million people each year are diagnosed with skin cancer. Probably double that or more are undiagnosed. Those undiagnosed people are where the danger lies.

If you get skin cancer you die

This is not even remotely true. Most skin cancers, if detected early enough, are all treatable with surgery. Squamous cell carcinomas and basil cell carcinomas are far less concerning than melanoma, but all skin cancers are treatable, if caught early. That’s why yearly visits to the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery are necessary, so our dermatologists can spot the cancers and pre-cancerous spots before they progress.

Sunscreen prevents skin cancer

Nope. Sunscreen helps block the rays that lead to skin cancer, but just because you have on sunscreen doesn’t mean you can spend every waking minute in the sun without repercussions. Sun damage is cumulative. If you’ve ever received a serious sunburn, like we all did as children, then that damage comes due as an older adult.

If you have lots of moles, you have a higher risk of melanoma

This is true. People with moles, especially large ones, have a higher risk of melanoma. Those moles need to be checked constantly to see if they change shape or color. It’s generally thought that if you have over 50 moles on your body you have a higher risk of skin cancer.

How’d you do? Fortunately, YOU don’t have to be the expert because that’s our gig at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery. Is it time to have your skin checked? Call us at (503) 297-3440 to make your appointment.

Skin Cancer Portland, OR

It Pays to Know Your ABCs of Skin Cancer

Skin Cancer Portland, OR May is Skin Cancer Awareness month and the American Academy of Dermatology marks the occasion with its annual SPOT Skin Cancer™ campaign. At the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery, we also think knowing your ABCs is a great way to keep an eye out for skin cancer, actually A, B, C, D, and E. Those five letters are an easy way to remember five keys for identifying growths that could be skin cancer, especially melanoma.

Living in not-always-so-sunny Portland, we can be lulled into a false sense of security about skin cancer. But whether you ski at Mt. Hood or Mt. Bachelor, when you hike the Cascades or hang out on the beach at Lincoln City, our outdoor Oregon lifestyles still result in plenty of sun exposure. And with that comes an elevated risk for developing skin cancer.

The key to beating skin cancer is to catch it early. Toward that end, the whole team at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery want our patients to be knowledgeable about the warning signs, so here is some additional information on skin cancer.

Who gets skin cancer?

Some people are very diligent about wearing sunscreen and otherwise protecting their skin, yet still seem to constantly find new actinic keratoses (pre-cancerous lesions) and even basal and squamous cell carcinomas. Meanwhile their friends with darker skin tones don’t ever get anything. Why is this? It all comes down to melanin. Melanin is the pigment in the skin that helps protect it from the sun. Melanin is what is responsible for turning the skin a darker tone (tanning) after receiving sun exposure. This is a protection mechanism.

The problem is, people with fair skin have less melanin so they are less protected. The ultraviolet rays from the sun can alter the genetic material in skin cells, causing them to mutate into cancerous cells. It is estimated that 40 to 50% of people with fair skin (who live to be at least 65 years of age) will develop at least one skin cancer in their lives.

Different cancers

Squamous cell carcinomas and basal cell carcinomas are more common than melanoma and they come from different types of sun exposure. Squamous and basal cell carcinomas are typically the result of the amount of overall sun exposure. Fair-skinned people who spend a lot of time outdoors will likely develop one of these two skin cancers. Melanoma, the most dangerous type of skin cancer, isn’t thought to come as much from prolonged sun exposure, but from the intensity. It is believed that melanoma is triggered by the scorching sunburns where the person’s skin blisters and peels afterwards. Research has shown that just one blistering sunburn during childhood doubles a person’s risk for developing melanoma later in life.

Know your ABCDEs

These five letters can come in handy when looking for skin cancers on your skin.

  • Asymmetry— If one half of the mole doesn’t match the other half, that’s a concern. Normal moles are symmetrical.
  • Border— If the border or edges of your mole are ragged, blurred, or irregular, that is a reason for concern. Melanoma lesions often have irregular borders.
  • Color— Normal moles are a single shade throughout. If your mole has changed color or if it has different shades of tan, brown, black, blue, white, or red, then it should be checked.
  • Diameter— If a mole is larger than the eraser of a pencil it needs to be checked.
  • Evolving— If a mole evolves by shrinking, growing larger, changing color, itching or bleeding, or other changes it should be checked. Melanoma lesions often grow in size or gain height rapidly.

Don’t think our grey rainy winters keep you safe from skin cancer. Unless you never go outdoors — and what’s the point of living in Oregon if you do that — you need to keep an eye out for skin cancer. Plus, yearly skin checks with the team at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery are a good idea, especially if you have fair skin or get a lot of sun exposure. Call us at (503) 297-3440 to make an appointment.

Tips for Skin Cancer Prevention

skin cancerMay is Skin Cancer Awareness month, an annual SPOT Skin Cancer™ campaign initiated by the American Academy of Dermatology.

Dr. Bernard Gasch, a board-certified dermatologist at the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery Portland, Oregon discusses the importance of prevention and early detection.

“An estimated one in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. On average, one American dies from melanoma every hour.  However, when detected and treated in its early stages, the five-year-survival rate for melanoma can be as high as 98%.”

Offering tips as to how patients can reduce their risk for developing skin cancer, Dr. Gasch stated this: “While there are a number of risk factors involved in skin cancer, exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the biggest culprit. One can decrease this risk by avoiding the sun, especially between the hours of 10AM to 4PM. If this cannot be helped, be sure you apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.  Also, reapply sunscreen frequently and liberally. One rule of thumb is to reapply every two hours or if you perspire, whichever comes first. Photoprotective clothing as well as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses offer an extra layer of protection.  Another option instead of purchasing new photoprotective clothing is to use a specific laundry detergent which adds SPF to your current clothing.   This laundry detergent (which is available at Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery) increases the SPF in your clothing to 30 (normal weave clothing has an SPF of 5 or less).

Commenting on the importance of this month-long effort, Dr. Gasch finishes with this: “While skin cancer is certainly a serious condition, it is almost always treatable when caught early.  We encourage patients to take a proactive role in their skin health not only during the month of May but all year long. If you notice any changing, bleeding, itching or suspicious spots on you or your partner’s skin, please schedule a comprehensive skin exam by a qualified Dermatology provider promptly.“



Dealing with Skin Cancer

May 1st marks the beginning of Skin Cancer Awareness Month, an annual campaign aimed at bringing skin cancer prevention and detection to center stage.  Dr. Beata Rydzik of Portland’s Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery was on hand to discuss the importance of these efforts, emphasizing the need for regular skin cancer screenings.

“Each year, over 3.5 million skin cancer cases are diagnosed in over 2 million people – that represents more cases than
breast, prostate, colon, and lung cancer combined,” reports Dr. Rydzik.  “With such a high prevalence, it is crucial for patients to understand the steps they can take to prevent, detect, and treat this all-too-common disease.”

A topic often misunderstood, Dr. Rydzik offered some background on the different types of skin cancers men and women are susceptible to.  “Skin cancers can be generally broken down into two categories: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers,” explains Dr. Rydzik.  “Melanoma accounts for less than 5% of skin cancer cases, but it represents the deadliest form of the disease.  While non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma tend to be less fatal, they still present a serious medical concern.”

Offering tips as to how patients can reduce their risk for developing skin cancer, Dr. Rydzik stated this: “While there are a number of risk factors involved in skin cancer, exposure to ultraviolet radiation is the biggest culprit.  Patients can minimize their exposure by avoiding the sun especially between the hours of 10AM to 4PM. If this cannot be helped be sure you wear sunscreen with an appropriate SPF. I recommend a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 40 and above. Reapplication after perspiration or swimming and every 2 hrs is also very important as no sunscreen that we put on in the morning lasts all day long.  Most definitely steer away from tanning beds which have the highest concentration of UVB radiation, more so than natural sunlight. You can also cover up with loose-fitting clothing and wear hats with a large brim. Patients need to understand that there is no benefit to “pre-tanning” before going on a tropical vacation. If you follow the steps of reapplication you will not sunburn. “Pre-tanning” amplifies the “UV-load” on your skin which then increases your risk of skin cancer and leads to premature aging.”


Emphasizing the importance of skin cancer detection, Dr. Rydzik had this to say: “In the end, one of the most important weapons against skin cancer is regular screenings from a dermatologist.  This is especially important for those who have a family history of skin cancer, those with a fair complexion, multiple moles and those who have noticed suspicious changes in their skin.”

Commenting on the importance of this month-long effort, Dr. Rydzik finished with this: “While skin cancer is certainly a serious condition, it is almost always treatable when caught early.  We encourage patients to take a proactive role in their skin health not only during the month of May but all year long and contact us directly to schedule regular skin exams.”



Skin Cancer Prevention Tips For Spring

As the cold winter weather leaves us, many people enjoy spending more time outside in the sun. Getting outdoors is a great way to stay healthy, but skin needs protection from UV rays. Each time skin is exposed to the sun without protection, even without tanning or burning, the risk of skin cancer and premature aging increases. Fortunately, skin can be protected and a few simple steps can help prevent cancer.

Tips To Prevent Skin Cancer

  • Limit direct sun exposure: Avoid direct, mid-day sun whenever possible. Between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., the sun’s rays are the most powerful. If outdoors, spend time in the shade. If that’s not possible, invest in sun protecting clothing. Many stylish options are available today for men, women, and children.
  • Wear sunglasses: Protect the eyes by wearing sunglasses any time the sun is out. Invest in a pair that has a label specifying its UV protection. Eyes are very susceptible to sun damage, so give them the protection they need.
  • Daily sunscreen: Use sunscreen every day, even if only outside for a few minutes. Every little bit of daily sun exposure adds up to cumulative damage and cancer risk. Use an SPF of at least 15 on all exposed skin every day, and check the bottle to ensure it provides UVA and UVB (broad spectrum) protection. When outside for a longer length of time, use a broad spectrum SPF of at least 30 and reapply every two hours. Remember to check expiration dates on all sunscreen and discard any bottles that have expired, as they lose their potency with time.
  • Protect baby skin: Keep babies out of the sun. Newborn babies should always be protected with a full-coverage sun shade over their infant carrier or stroller. Once babies are over six months old, apply a sunscreen formulated for babies’ sensitive skin. Sun protective hats are important for babies of all ages, as they protect their delicate scalps and eyes from UV exposure.
  • Get skin checked regularly: Examine skin every month, and see the dermatologist once a year, or as often as he or she has recommended. Regular skin checks are crucial to detecting skin cancer and treating it early, when a cure has the best chance.

Are You At Risk For Skin Cancer? Call the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery

For more information about our comprehensive dermatological services, including both medical and cosmetic dermatology, please contact the Center for Dermatology and Laser Surgery at 503.297.3440.

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