Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

May is skin cancer awareness month and we have already touched on the ABCDEs of at-home skin cancer checks and basal cell carcinoma. Today, we will be discussing a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Did you know that squamous cell carcinoma is the second most common form of skin cancer in Canada after basal cell carcinoma?

Treatment for SCC should not be put off. As more damage is done to surrounding tissues it will get larger, and if left untreated a small percentage may spread to distant tissues, organs, and/or local lymph glands. When SCC metastasizes, it can be fatal. SCC can develop from pre-cancerous growths or “sunspots” called actinic keratoses.

As with the previous skin cancers we have learned about, SCCs are caused by chronic exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun and/or tanning beds. SCC is the result of a mutation in a squamous cell’s DNA which instructs the cells to grow out of control and continue living, when normally they would die. This skin cancer can occur on any part of your body, but lesions that develop on the ears or lips are generally considered more serious. This is because they can be more aggressive and prone to spreading to nearby lymph glands.

Factors that may increase your risk of developing SCC include fair skin, past history of skin cancer, and history of chronic ultraviolet radiation from the sun or tanning beds. Renal organ transplant patients whose immune systems are compromised also face a higher risk; in these patients, the malignant cells tend to act more aggressively and may spread to other parts of the body. People who use tanning beds have a much higher risk of getting SCC, with onset beginning earlier in life.

SCC can appear as a wart-like growth that is thickened, red, and/or has scaly bumps. They can also look like an open sore, or dry scaly patches of skin. They are often tender, but sometimes they may not cause pain at all.

It is important to note that SCCs can look quite different from one person to another; when in doubt, check it out. Any sore that does not heal within four weeks should be examined by a skin specialist. Follow your instincts and visit your dermatologist if you see anything new, changing, or unusual on your skin.

Now that you know what to look for, an important question to ask is how do you help prevent this type of skin cancer? Avoid spending time in the sun during the hottest hours of the day, wear protective clothing, apply SPF year-round (even when it is cool or rainy out), and avoid tanning beds. Lastly, it is important to perform self skin checks at home and report any changes you may notice to your family doctor or dermatologist.

Sometimes the hard topics in life are worth discussing; they just might help save a life!


References : dermatology.ca, skincancer.org

Dealing with the Aesthetic side of Sun Damage: Part 1 ~ Skincare products

The first thing we need to understand when dealing with sun damage is that there should be a lifestyle shift.  While treatments can do a magnificent job at treating signs of sun damage, it is never one and done.  Just as we continue our exposure to UV and environmental damages every day, we need to take daily action for our skin as well.  A proper skin care routine cannot be overrated.  I, myself, used to justify less potent products from the drugstore because they listed the right active ingredients on the label; it’s easy to assume they are the same thing.  Now it’s time to bust that myth!  The efficacy of an active ingredient is all in the correct dosage, correct carrier, and correct application.  Vitamin C, for example, loses potency quite easily and is not effective in a cream base unless it is properly encapsulated.

Skin care is not one size fits all – unless we’re talking sunscreen (and there are NO exceptions to that requirement).  Everybody has different levels of sensitivity, barrier function, genetic conditions, medication, and history written in their skin.  So please, take advantage of a complimentary consultation and let us set you up with an effective skincare routine.  I am offering email consultations at this time, or you can call the clinic and speak to our knowledgeable staff.  (FYI: Starting on a good skin care routine six weeks before any treatment will also enhance the results of your treatment and set you up for significantly greater results.  It truly is a beautiful thing!)

Skin care routines should change with the seasons, and summertime is when we can focus on topical antioxidants, moisturizers, and sunscreens.  In Calgary’s climate, our skin can feel such a relief from the harsh winter months that we forget to moisturize at all.  I advise against this.  Even if you apply a very light moisturizer in the daytime and a heavier moisturizer at night, barrier function is important for skin health.  Moisturizers work on the integrity of that barrier while softening skin cells so active ingredients can work deeper into the skin and the cells can smoothly perpetuate their natural cycle.  Calgary is always dry and the environment literally pulls moisture from our skin; if you think about how oil and water don’t mix, it makes sense that a healthy level of oil on the skin’s surface can help to preserve moisture where we need it most in our skin.

As mentioned in the sun awareness article, antioxidants are a vital aspect of everyday skin care to prevent aesthetic sun damage and to keep cells healthy.  At Papillon Medical, we carry two dermatology-grade skin care lines which have customizable active ingredients.  This is a dream come true for me, as we can choose which of the two brands works best for a client and continue tailoring the specific active ingredients each time the product runs out.  The first of the two is Universe Skin.  This line focuses on anti-inflammation and high-potency actives.  The line comes complete with only the “P” serum used for active application.

Our other customizable line is Dermaviduals.  This line is based on the concept of corneotherapy, a remedial skin treatment methodology with its core principle being the repair and maintenance of the skin barrier defense systems.  The skin cells are softened so the actives can penetrate deeper into the skin.  Each line is appropriate for different skin types, and they each come with a wide range of powerful active ingredients.

Papillon also carries the well-known brands ZO, Alyria, and Skin Medica.  While these products are already mixed with their actives, they allow us to work with a wider range of options for clients with different budgets and needs.

While the prices of active and effective products may initially seem daunting, studies show that it’s almost equivalent to what you might spend on products at the drug store.  This is because it takes much less effective product to make a greater impact on the skin.  You should never have to use more than a pea-sized amount of each product.

By Nicole Whiteside, Medical Aesthetician / Laser Technician
Papillon Medical & Dermatology

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

Let’s talk about skin cancer. It can be a scary topic to discuss, and sometimes it is easier to ignore the subject than to face the truth.

Basal cell carcinoma is one of the most common forms of skin cancer in Canada.  Fortunately, this type of skin cancer is the least dangerous, but that does not mean you can simply ignore it.  BCCs must be treated or they will continue to grow by destroying and invading surrounding skin tissue which can sometimes lead to disfigurement.

Let us start with a little background information on why this type of skin cancer is called a basal cell carcinoma.  Everyone has basal cells, which are found at the bottom of our epidermis.  This type of skin cancer occurs when one of the basal cells develops a mutation in its DNA (the basal cell’s DNA controls the process of creating new skin cells).  When this process is functioning properly, new skin cells are produced in the basal cell; over time, the older cells are pushed toward the skin’s surface, where eventually these old cells die and are sloughed off. When a mutation occurs in the basal cell, the DNA instructs the cell to multiply rapidly and continues to grow when it would normally die off and be shed from the skin.  Eventually, this overgrowth in cells may form a cancerous tumor; this is the lesion that appears on the skin in the form of a basal cell carcinoma.

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of this type of skin cancer (if you would like more information on ultraviolet radiation, please see our blog “The Sun’s Relationship with Your Skin”).

Factors that may increase your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma include: chronic sun exposure, frequent or severe sunburns as a child, increasing age, fair skin, personal or family history of skin cancer, radiation therapy, renal organ transplant, and patients whose immune systems are compromised.

What should you look for?  The appearance of this type of skin cancer can vary, but the early warnings sings include:

  • A firm, flesh-coloured, or slightly reddish bump, often with a pearly border
  • A sore or pimple-like growth that bleeds, crusts over, and then reappears
  • A small, scaly patch seen most often on the trunk or limbs
  • The area may have small blood vessels on the surface which give it a red colour

It is important to note that BCCs can look quite different from one person to another; when in doubt, check it out.  Any sore that does not heal within four weeks should be examined by a dermatologist.  Follow your instincts and visit your dermatologist if you see anything new, changing, or unusual on your skin.

Now that you know what to look for, an important question to ask is how do you help prevent this type of skin cancer?  Avoid being in the sun during the hottest hours of the day, wear protective clothing, wear SPF year-round (even when it is cool or rainy out), and avoid tanning beds.  Lastly, it is important to perform self-skin checks at home and report any changes you may notice to your family doctor or dermatologist.

Sometimes the hard topics in life are worth discussing, they might just save a life!

References :  Dermatology.ca, skincancer.org

The Sun’s Relationship With Your Skin

What you need to know about the sun’s relationship to skin, a message from your Medical Aesthetician.

We are all celebrating the break in the cold weather as spring is waking up in our city. The warmth and light of the sun is a truly wonderful and healing part of life.

It is important to understand how the sun affects your skin so that you can enjoy it safely. As you read this, please don’t stress about the past! I’m here to help you to deal with the results of those experiences, but we’ll get to that in another article. The amazing star that warms our planet and gives it light and life should not be scorned for its scorch; it’s our responsibility to learn and take care.

Sunlight is composed of visible light, infrared light, and UV (ultraviolet) light. UV light is a form of light energy – a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, or solar spectrum – which is harmful to us. UV radiation is a proven carcinogen and has three wavelengths: A, B, and C. UVC has the shortest wavelength and is mostly absorbed by the earth’s atmosphere.

UVA rays have the longest and most damaging wavelength and are not blocked by clouds, windows, or most clothing. 80% of UVA light still comes through on a cloudy day, which means you should wear sunscreen every day, no matter the weather. These wavelengths also travel the deepest into the skin, into the dermis and the hypodermis causing damage to the collagen and elastin fibers. The dermis is comprised of 70% collagen and is commonly referred to as the “scaffolding” of the skin, holding it up and giving it structure. The effect of UVA light becomes obvious over time as it accelerates the signs of aging – even if it never amounts to a sunburn. The damage is invisible and gradual, and the cumulative effects of this damage show up later as thickened, aged skin.

UVB is a shorter wavelength which cannot pass through window glass. It primarily affects the epidermis, the outer layer of the skin, then gradually travels to the dermis. The radiation intensity of UVB is about a thousand times stronger than UVA, and it’s the major cause of skin cancer as it is highly cytotoxic (toxic to living cells) and mutates DNA. UVB is responsible for sun burns and tanning, both of which are forms of skin cell damage. Most commonly over time, this damage presents (visually) as dark spots, thinned skin which shows veins, enlarged pores, textural issues, and more. The saving grace of UVB is that it does contribute to the body’s synthesis of Vitamin D. While sunlight itself does not contain Vitamin D (a common misconception), it does aid in its synthesis.

What we experience with radiation on the skin is “free radical damage”. Free radicals attack and steal the electrons of our cells causing cellular confusion. They cause inflammation, oxidation, and photoaging. This is why antioxidants, which have extra electrons to support cellular function while correcting and protecting, should be a core aspect of everybody’s skin care routine.

L-Ascorbic acid, or Vitamin C, is a common antioxidant used in skincare. L-Ascorbic acid is an unstable molecule; it doesn’t hold potency when exposed to open air or light and needs to be properly processed in a lab. Look for medical grade serums with 10% (or higher) Vitamin C or ask your Medical Aesthetician for recommendations.

Other antioxidants for your skin include Vitamin E and A. For some people who struggle with acne, Vitamin E can be too heavy and cause breakouts. In others, it helps oxidative stress and softens the outer layers of the skin, thus aiding in a clear complexion. As we are all so unique, it is important to have discussions about your skin and skincare routine with an educated professional. Skincare consultations at Papillon Medical are always complimentary, and we invite you to reach out with any questions or concerns you may have.

One last point about sun protection is that not all sunscreens are good for you. Many drug store, chemical-based sunscreens actually contain free radicals themselves! There are two types of sun protection products: physical blocks and chemical screens. Physical sun blocks (look for products that contain zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) do not penetrate the skin. Chemical sunscreens need to be reapplied often, as they are absorbed into the skin and are processed through the body. Many people find physical sun blocks too heavy and white appearing to want to use them on their face; this is why medical grade skin care lines have created a variety of blended physical/chemical sunscreens. My favorite way to protect my skin without looking like I’m wearing a mountain of sunblock is to use any ZO sunscreen after my moisturizer, and then dust Jane Iredale Pressed Powder (which has a mineral SPF of 25, made to match all skin tones) overtop. Finish with a spritz of rose petal water for a dewy set.

I hope this message inspires you all to reach for your sunscreen and add antioxidants A, C, and E into your daily face and body routine – especially during this warmer weather.

By Nicole Whiteside, Medical Aesthetician / Laser Technician
Papillon Medical & Dermatology