Tag Archives: prevention

Beneath the Sun: What you need to know about skin cancer in SLO

Journalism student Clara Knapp enjoying the sunny SLO outdoors
Journalism student Clara Knapp enjoying the sunny SLO outdoors

It has been raining more than usual lately in San Luis Obispo, so when a few days of sunshine finally came around, my senior project team was only thinking about one thing: tanning.  It’s a favorite Cal Poly           student pastime, and why shouldn’t it be? Cal Poly has an outdoorsy culture that encourages people to have a “healthy” tan, and spending time hanging out in the sunshine at the pool or beach with friends is easy at our campus.

But what about all the things people don’t like to think about when it comes to fun in the sun? Things like skin cancer, wrinkles, sun spots and aging. And, of course, putting on sunscreen. As college students, even though we know the risks of sun exposure, we think sunscreen makes tanning impossible, we forget to put it on… or we’re simply too lazy. Realizing that this could potentially have far-reaching effects on skin gave birth to the concept behind our story: discovering the true risks of sun exposure for people our age, and the effects it may have later on in life.

Getting Started

Our senior project team of four worked to bring all the pieces together: Maggie Hitchings working on the print version, Allison Royal covering multimedia, Barbara Levin featuring a Cal Poly student with skin cancer in a broadcast piece, and myself (Clara Knapp) coordinating the project in a PR role.


I thought this was a tough yet exciting topic to cover. It was a tough topic to cover because everyone knows that it’s bad to not wear sunscreen, but everyone ignores it. Finding a different and intriguing angle was the first challenge but once we gathered our sources we were able to tackle the topic.                    – Barbara Levin


Day one of the project, I posted on social media to get some opinions from the community on what exactly they would like to learn from a story on this topic. I posted on my personal Facebook page, a Cal Poly Facebook page and on Twitter, and was excited to receive feedback from a wide range of people, and even the Olay Skin company! I also posted on Instagram, and received helpful questions from students at Cal Poly – this was a great way to engage with potential readers.

Instagram
Posting on Instagram helped engage Cal Poly students in the reporting process.

These social media responses were able to give us some direction once we contacted our sources and had all the interviews lined up.

Finding the Facts

As a team, were able to talk to a wide range of people with knowledge about sun exposure, skin cancer and skincare. Our sources included a tanning salon employee, a microbiologist who does research on UVA and UVB rays, and a Cal Poly student who struggles with skin cancer.


Going into our story I was a little lost on what the angle was going to be. I was getting stressed out that our story wasn’t going to be interesting enough or informative past what people already know about sun protection. However, after attending the interviews I gained so much insight on both the scientific side, from Dr. Fidopiastis, and emotional side, from Monica, about skin cancer. The story really came together and I think it will be informative for students and hopefully scare some people into wearing sunscreen and protecting themselves!           – Maggie Hitchings


Casey Handcock, employee at Planet Beach Tanning & Spa
Casey Handcock, employee at Planet Beach Tanning & Spa

Attending these interviews taught me things about sun and UV exposure that surprised me. Casey Handcock, a Cal Poly civil engineering major and tanning salon employee, told me that some of her clients have been prescribed tanning by doctors in order to treat spider veins, Vitamin D deficiency,  and other skin conditions such as acne.

Allison Royal Interviewing Planet Beach employee Casey Handcock
Allison Royal Interviewing Planet Beach employee Casey Handcock
I was surprised to hear that doctors prescribe tanning to patients because of controversy about the health and safety of tanning beds, but apparently this practice is widespread enough that it has gotten the attention of the media.

“My favorite part of the project was interviewing Casey. She explained tanning like donuts – if you have a donut here and there in moderation, you’re okay. If you have 20 donuts and eat them everyday, that’s unhealthy.”
– Allison Royal

However, other sources we talked to warned against intentionally exposing yourself to UV rays.
According to Cal Poly Biology professor Dr. Pat Fidopiastis, being exposed to the sun without protection is never safe. He suggested using sunscreen and wearing tightly woven clothing, even when it is cloudy. This is because some sun rays, especially UVA, are highly penetrating, can pass through clothing and cause skin damage below the surface. These rays are largely responsible for cancer deep in the skin that can spread to other areas of the body. Conversely, UVB rays are largely associated with tanning, skin again and wrinkles.

Gaining a New Perspective

Interviewing Cal Poly Journalism major Monica Roos helped us understand the gravity of skin cancer, and that it doesn’t just affect older people. Skin cancer is scary and can dramatically affect your lifestyle.

People need to realize that it isn’t always “just a mole” and there really is no such thing as “a healthy tan.” The research shows that skin cancer is extremely common and can be devastating, even for people in college.

Through the process of completing this story, my senior project team learned the facts about skin cancer and the risk it poses for college students, but we also gained a new perspective on the care we should be taking  to preserve our own bodies and keep them healthy for decades to come. We’re all guilty of spending time in the San Luis Obispo sun without protection, but it’s time to wake up and think about the consequences.

This topic was a reminder that there are lasting impacts to such decision and we were lucky enough to gather valuable sources such as Monica Roos who have a first-hand experience on the damages that the sun can do to you. I really learned about the consequences that just a few sunburns can do to you and think this will impact my decisions of being outside and protecting myself everyday. – Barbara Levin

The CDC provides tips for how you can protect yourself from harmful rays while still enjoying the San Luis Obispo sun. Needless to say, the first thing on my shopping list this week is a big bottle of good, full-coverage sunscreen.