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05-17-15 | Posted by

Mona Mofid, MD, is not your typical dermatologist – and that’s what makes her one of the greats. The La Jolla, Calif-based skin care expert doesn’t know how to inject botulinum toxin, and has no interest in learning. Instead, Mofid is all about preventing and treating skin cancer.

Mofid, who is known as Dr. Mona, received her medical degree at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and completed her training at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. During her training, a multidisciplinary melanoma group convened weekly – and that group as well as the patients that the team treated – are what inspired her to devote much of her practice to preventing and treating skin cancers.

Before heading West, she was a full-time faculty member and the Clinic Director of Dermatology at Johns Hopkins. Today, in addition to a thriving practice, San Diego Skin, Inc., she also serves as the medical director of the American Melanoma Foundation, and was named San Diego’s top dermatologist by the Union Tribune in 2014.

Mofid spoke to Beauty in The Bag about sun safety, the importance of prevention and early detection of skin cancer and the one thing we all do wrong when it comes to applying our sunscreen



Here’s what we learned:

1. What is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and why is it so important?

May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. And to kick it off, the first Monday in May (before the summer and Memorial Day weekend which is traditionally a big “outdoor weekend) is “Melanoma Monday,” according to The American Academy of Dermatology. In 2015, Melanoma Monday took place on on May 4, 2015.

The goal is to raise awareness about melanoma, the potentially fatal form of skin cancer. Almost one person dies every hour in this country from melanoma. Of the different types of skin cancer, melanoma accounts for about 75% of all skin cancer deaths. Melanoma Monday has helped save lives and will continue to do so.

2. With prevention, early detection and new treatments, does anyone have to die from melanoma?

There has been an explosion of amazing new treatments in the melanoma arena during the past few years. The results have been extraordinary. These drugs aren’t cures, but they do extend survival for people with advanced or spreading melanomas. There is no substitute for prevention and early detection. Yes, it’s great that we have these therapies, but we don’t want to use them if we don’t have to.

3. Where do melanomas develop and what do they look like?

Melanomas generally develop on the skin, but can be seem in other areas of the body such as the eye, underneath nails and inside the nose and mouth. The most common location in women is on the back of the legs and in men on their backs. Melanomas generally are:

  • Asymetrical
  • Have Irregular Borders
  • Colorful
  • Larger than ¼ inch in diameter
  • Evolve or change with time

Everyone should have an annual skin check with their dermatologist and perform monthly self-exams. If you notice any suspicious moles including any that are changing or bleeding, schedule a visit with your dermatologist. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

4. Why are sunburns and tanning considered so dangerous?

A tan is a sign of skin damage, it’s not a healthy glow. A history of five or more sunburns during your lifetime doubles your risk of developing skin cancer. Sun protection is especially important in children. It’s the sunburns that we accrue early in life can lead to skin cancer as an adult. My two sons are my pride and joy, and I have been slathering them with sunscreen for as long as I can remember. Indoor tanning is also harmful. Just one indoor UV tanning session increases the risk of melanoma by 20% and increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma by 67%.

5. What type of sunscreen should we use and how much do we need?

Select a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and preferably 50+. The higher the SPF number, the longer it protects a person from the sun’s burning rays — ultraviolet A and B (UVA, UVB) — which damage the skin.It’s also important that you know how to interpret the new sunscreen labels. Sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB sunrays will be labeled “broad-spectrum.” Not every sunscreen is “broad-spectrum,” so be sure to see that on the label before purchasing. Sunscreen used to say either “waterproof” or “water-resistant.” “Waterproof” is now off the table because it gives us an unrealistic sense of security about how long and well the sunscreen will last after we take a dip in the pool. The same is true for sunblock which will be replaced by sunscreen because you really can’t fully block the sun. Our biggest problem with sunscreen is that we don’t use enough. Generally, people only use about 1/4 of the recommended “serving size.” A serving size is a shotglass of lotion, and that is the amount that is supposed to be reapplied every two hours.

6. Tell us about the AMF and its work.

The American Melanoma Foundation is a non-profit group that aims to help stamp out melanoma. Originally known as the Merlin Foundation, the AMF was founded in Southern California in 1990 by a group of melanoma patients and their relatives who wanted to develop new treatment approaches for the treatment melanoma. We are passionate about public education and public policy. Unlike other organizations, we don’t hold walks or sales to raise money. The AMF is supported by the regular generosity of melanoma advocates around the country. It is a wonderful organization and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

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