While the summer months bring plenty of fun outdoor experiences, the Sun can spoil a day — and a lifetime — thanks to skin damage that could lead to diseases like Melanoma. Dedicated to ensuring people are protected against those kinds of possibilities, Janis Isabel Carreras has created a new skin protectant that touts versatility and accessibility.
As we approach the summer months, exciting activities like kayaking, hiking, and spending a beautiful day on the beach may already be swirling around in your mind. Those are certainly worth getting excited over, though as the temperature rises, there’s a dangerous caveat that may spoil your plans: skin cancer, which depending on the severity, could be life-threatening.
In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimates that 99,780 new melanoma cases will be diagnosed — around 57,000 men and 42,000 women — while 7,650 of those patients are expected to pass. On a wider scale, more than 9,500 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with any kind of skin cancer every day, which amounts to over 3.4 million a year.
The extremity of those numbers all but call for not only more awareness to the risks, but for added protection and advice. Certified medical assistant specializing in surgery Janis Isabel Carreras took to the challenge, using her innovative side to come up with an in-development skin protectant that offers a greaseless application, along with easy and broad usability.
“The reason I came up with the skin protectant is because we can prevent, and at least give a little barrier to try and lessen precancerous actinic keratoses, skin cancers or other skin conditions,” Carreras said. “I really just wanted something that people can feel comfortable with — the guys won’t feel like they’re using a girly product — and something that can be used on a daily basis. Something people can put on their skin and not feel like [it’s] a heavy coating.”
“Men in general a lot of times, they don’t want to wear cosmetic creams or anything like. [For] this formula, I wanted to do some kind of dry skin protectant spray that reapplies.”
Part of the protectant’s value is that it can be used to effectively cover areas frequently missed by sunscreen. As to where those sections that are enduring harmful damage are, it’s not much of a secret. Carreras explained that surgery often shows her exactly what body parts need more attention.
“With the different types of surgery that I have been involved with, there is a certain type called Mohs surgery. The patient stays there [for up to] eight hours, and we take layer by layer [of skin] and examine it. When the patient leaves that day, they actually know that the skin cancer is out. The most common areas that this is done on [are] the ears, the scalp, and the neck because those are the most missed areas.”
Even if people feel they use protection from the sun, it can still leave critical parts exposed. “I used to see a lot of patients that were golfers, they would wear visors and sunglasses, but that still exposes your scalp. [With] a lot of women, we’ve had to do surgery on the parts, which is unfortunate because we have to shave the hair in that area.”
While Carreras’ product isn’t for a specific group — instead being encouraged for all to use — she did note the protectant could be especially appealing to men, who can at times be resistant to creams and lotions they consider to be feminine or bothersome to apply and wear. That stubbornness shows, with men being 14% times more likely to suffer melanoma.
That kind of knowledge from the patient viewpoint has played a large part in the way Carreras has attempted to shape her product in order to ensure its flexibility and appeal to all are at the highest level. “That is a lot of feedback from patients. They don’t want to wear anything on their scalp, especially women because then [their] hair gets greasy and matted down.”
“If [a person gets] any kind of spot under your nail, people don’t think to go to the dermatologist. They think, ‘Oh, maybe I stubbed my toe.’ But it actually can be skin cancer. A lot of [conditions] can sometimes look normal, but if it’s new or changing, it’s best to have it checked.”
When creating the protectant — which was granted a utility patent in February of this year — Carreras simply started by looking at what was available to her. “I went through some of my dry shampoos and other products I have, I researched the different ingredients, [and] I just put them all together. That’s how I came up with it.” Among the ingredients the protectant uses are zinc oxide and titanium oxide.
Regardless of the current state of your body, Carreras emphasized that a trip to the dermatologist at least once a year could, in some cases, literally be a life saver. “It’s very important, especially when you find skin cancer, that you do your full-body exams once a year. If you have a basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, those are types of skin cancers that we would say come back every six months or sooner if you see any changes.” For melanoma, Carreras urged visits every three months for the first two years after the diagnosis. “When these things are caught early, they are curable.”
When it comes to demographics, melanoma is 20 times more common in Whites (who have a 2.1% lifetime risk of the disease) than African Americans. However, those statistics are culprits of creating the idea that darker skinned races don’t have to worry about skin diseases or general skin protection, which is far from the case. “There’s less public awareness overall of the risks in skin cancer among other races,” Carreras said.
“On a lighter skin person, it could look like a pink, crusty, scaly patch. When you get to the darker skin, they seem to be discovered at a later stage, because a lot of the patients would come in and say, ‘I have this spot that wouldn’t go away.'” Because of the later stage at which they’re found, Carreras said these cancers typically have a worse prognosis.
Carreras noted that areas like the soles, palms, and underneath the fingernails and toenails are the most common areas that skin cancer forms in darker skin, but they can show up in these areas on anyone.
“Sometimes children and teenagers are out in the pools without parents, and they’re not going to reapply sunscreen every two hours like recommended, which a lot of people in general don’t realize that. It doesn’t matter if it’s SPF 30 [or] SPF 80, if you’re sweating or swimming, it is recommended every two hours to reapply sunscreen.”
Another group that could greatly benefit from Carreras’ skin protectant are children and teenagers, who could be at higher risk. “You can develop melanoma even if you’ve never had sun damage. Most sun damage is accumulated by the age of 18,” she said, mentioning the ages of 18 to 24 as a specific time frame where young adults are most vulnerable. Of course, kids and teens are also at risk due to their indifference or dislike of — and thus opting to avoid — skin protection like sunscreen, and ignore the repeated advice of frequent reapplication.
While adults may be more keen on using sunscreen to start the day than children are, that doesn’t mean they excel in reapplication either, even if they’re in a situation that doesn’t see them out in the sun for long periods of time. “Many people who work in offices, don’t think to put sunscreen on in the morning but don’t realize that the car ride, or that lunchtime walk, [you’re exposed]. Luckily more products in general are coming out with sunscreen including makeup and creams.”
“My goal is to give something to people they will use on a daily basis before their everyday routine and still be comfortable but more protected.” Carreras intends to also introduce a version that allows for on-the-go usage, to take while driving or use during daily outdoor activities.
“It’s interesting, when a couple comes in for their skin exam, we can actually tell who the driver is and who the passenger is because most of their moles are on that side [of where you’re facing the window]. Areas like the face, arms and hands need your everyday sunscreen choice, then my product would be applied to your scalp, ears and neck region.”
“Genetics play a big role. You want to know [what] your parents [or] family [have had before]. Anyone with a first-degree relative diagnosed with melanoma has a greater chance of developing the disease. Unfortunately some people think they’re invincible, or [think], ‘I don’t go out in the sun,’ but not knowing a lot of the damage was accrued when they were younger.”
Now knowing the logistics behind skin disease, what can you do to up your all-around protection game moving forward? Carreras advised a number of options, not only sunscreen application but also learning your family health background in order to understand how vulnerable your genetics are to skin disease and also having your full body exams yearly or sooner depending on any skin changes and medical history.
For the fashionistas, Carreras recommended flat-brimmed hats, sunglasses, and SPF-material clothing, which she noted is very good, especially for the younger generations. “For the beach or pool, there is clothing that looks like surf shirts, [and] they have UV protection, in which more of the sun’s rays are blocked and you get more sun protection along with sunscreen. These sun protection clothes are even out in regular everyday hats, shirts, et cetera. So they are definitely coming out with a lot of different ways for people to prevent skin cancer.”
Most of all, Carreras urged that sunscreen shouldn’t be forgotten, even if one is using her protectant for their ears, scalp and neck, regular sunscreen should be applied on all other sun-exposed areas such as the face, arms and body. She emphasized that applying both could help to maximize your overall protection. “My protectant is not taking over sunscreen at all, it should be used along with sunscreen. An article I just read said that people should be using sunscreen in their daily routine, which most people don’t because they [associate] sunscreen with going to the beach or the pool.”
While some populations still don’t understand the full severity of skin disease and the necessity of having a full checkup yearly, Carreras did acknowledge there’s been more awareness generated about protection and medical visits than before — a positive and needed development — especially because “the sun keeps getting stronger.”
The skin protectant in its most basic form is far from the last plans the creative Carreras has for it. In the future, she intends to build further forms, such as creams and gels, while adding more fragrances and styles to increase versatility. No matter the route she takes from here, she’s excited to be making her mark in the skin protection industry while helping others to stay safe and healthy, even in the most dangerously scathing times of the year.
“I’m very excited for the future, I get emotional knowing that I am doing something that will help people from having painful procedures and surgeries, with less doctor visits. After the few years we’ve had, more fun in the sun is needed. But let’s protect ourselves more during the good times ahead.”
*Photos of Janis Isabel Carreras taken by Stewart Photographic.
Andrew Rhoades is a Contributing Reporter at The National Digest based in New York. A Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Rhoades’ reporting includes sports, U.S., and entertainment. You can reach him at email@example.com.