Safety in the Sun

The Skin Group’s Billy Warrick recommends taking in sunlight responsibly.

William “Billy” Warrick, PA-C.

Story by Mariah Kline

Photos by Kathryn Harrington

As we approach warmer weather, most of us look forward to spending time outside once more and taking in as much sunshine as possible. However, taking in the sun’s rays over the course of a lifetime can cause severe sun damage and lead to skin cancer. To learn more about protection and prevention, we turned to the Skin Group’s William “Billy” Warrick, PA-C. 

Warrick has been in general dermatology for 13 years and has worked with Dr. Robert Zax – board certified dermatologist and managing member of the Skin Group – for 11 years. In addition to his general dermatology practice experience, Warrick has worked with countless skin cancer patients. 

Many people consider sun damage a non-issue if they only spend a few days at the beach a year and avoid using a tanning bed. While more people have learned about the dangers of tanning beds and they are not as popular as they once were, their effects continue to be a major issue for Warrick’s patients. Whether tanning bed users are younger or older, frequent usage causes damage that will age your skin quickly and can cause a variety of skin cancers.

However, tanning is not the only root cause of skin cancer. Warrick emphasizes that absolutely everyone who spends time in the sun is at risk.

“I can’t stress enough that people should get yearly skin checks,” he says. “The unnerving thing about UV radiation is that everybody is at risk. If you’ve been around the sun at all, I believe you’re at risk.”

Warrick recommends yearly skin checks for everyone but particularly those who have experienced sun damage – whether by natural or human-made sunlight – and for those who have moles on their body.

“A general rule you can follow is to get a yearly skin check,” he says, “but if someone comes in and they look quite good, their sun damage isn’t that bad, they’re not freckled up or if they don’t have fair features, maybe they don’t necessarily need to be seen every year. Certainly, we still recommend sunscreen and sun avoidance, but in our world there’s so much sun damage that most people need a yearly skin check.”

The good news is that there are procedures available to treat and remove many types of skin cancer. According to Warrick, the most common issues he sees day-to-day are non-melanoma skin cancers – including squamous cell and basal cell – and atypical moles. Dr. Zax performs Mohs surgery at the Skin Group’s downtown office and at their Brooks, Kentucky, location for more severe cases.

“Certain skin cancers that are on the torso, the arms or the legs, you can deal with sometimes with less invasive procedures,” he says. “But Mohs is such an important tool we use because the cure rate is upwards of 99.99 percent. It’s such an important tool to have.”

To avoid the need for such procedures in the first place, Warrick recommends abiding by certain skincare rules. Since the most intense sunlight usually comes between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., it’s wise to protect yourself during those hours. When it comes to sunscreen, Warrick says to avoid sunscreens that claim to be “waterproof” or “water-resistant” since in all likelihood, they do not truly repel water. One key piece of advice that Warrick offers sounds simple enough but is often overlooked.

“Paying attention to your body is the most impactful thing you can do besides sun avoidance and using sunscreen,” he explains. “So many people either see a spot and ignore it, or they may not know it’s there at all. If they’d been paying attention or had someone looking at their back, they’d find these things. I cannot tell you how many times someone has come in for a rash or something else and I’ll say, ‘By the way, do you mind if I look at your back, behind your ears, places that you can’t see?’ Sure enough, there (a spot) will be. It happens all the time, and it’s never not alarming. I hate it for (my patients) because they aren’t expecting that.”

While we break out of our winter blues and approach the summer season, it’s imperative to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful rays, enjoy the sun in moderation and pay close attention to your skin. VT