For most of Michelle Monaghan’s life, sunscreen wasn’t something she reached for until after her skin had burned. That is, until she was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Here, the 44-year-old actress and mother of two shares her battle with skin cancer and advocates to remove the stigma surrounding the disease, and sun protection as a whole.
How did you first discover you had skin cancer?
My husband was actually the one who noticed the mole first—on my lower left calf. He’s Australian, and Down Under they have a high rate of skin cancer. He was well-educated, thank goodness, on the appearance of abnormal-looking moles. And upon his insistence, I went to see a dermatologist, where I had a biopsy.
What type of skin cancer was it?
It was diagnosed as malignant melanoma, and fortunately, we caught it at an early stage. My doctor excised the mole and surrounding area, and thankfully, no other treatment was necessary. My husband sweetly credits himself as saving my life. I can’t argue with that!
What was your relationship with sunscreen prior to your diagnosis?
Prior to my skin cancer, I didn’t pay attention to sunblock or sun protection at all. Sadly, only after I would get burned nearly every summer, would I start to think to apply it. I spent a lot of time outdoors as a child and teen—I’m even guilty of going to a tanning salon for prom! Please, please don’t make that mistake. I wish I could turn back time and be more educated about the potential life-saving merits of wearing sunscreen on a daily basis. Today, I practice important sun safety habits like wearing hats and sunglasses, applying sunscreen every day and then reapplying every two hours, and most importantly, visiting my dermatologist for routine health exams. We should never underestimate the power of prevention!
What shocked you most about going through this experience?
I’m stunned at how common skin cancer is, yet how uninformed or unaffected people are about it. In fact, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. with 1 in every 5 Americans diagnosed in their lifetime. Yet only 1 in 10 Americans wear sunscreen on a daily basis, and nearly half of Americans don’t wear it at all. The need to educate people on the importance of daily sunscreen use has never been greater. This disease is largely preventable, and it starts with making a few small changes. I believe that by being vocal about our experiences and encouraging our friends and families to take sun protection seriously, we can make an impact and see these stats change for the better.
What are your favorite sunscreens?
A common misconception out there is that applying sunscreen is an extra step people don’t have time for. However, if you find the right sunscreen, it will actually eliminate steps in your skincare routine. For my face, I love EltaMD UV Physical Broad-Spectrum SPF 41($33) [Monaghan has partnered with the brand to raise awareness of sun safety], which I apply after my serums as my third and final step. It also serves as my moisturizer, and it’s lightly tinted, so it hides imperfections. For my body, I like a high SPF, as I spend a lot of time outside, especially with two young kids. I don’t mess around with exposed skin, but I also don’t like the pasty look some sunblocks give me, so I use EltaMD UV Active Broad-Spectrum SPF 50+ ($59). It gives transparent coverage and dries quickly. I also always try to reapply every few hours—it makes a big difference.
Why is it important to you to speak out about sun safety?
I’d like for there not to be a stigma surrounding skin cancer and sun protection. I don’t want people to just settle for having something removed when it’s too late. I want them to be proactive and not reactive with their skin health. Prevention is key, and it starts with instilling healthy habits and a good routine for our children. We should be able to have fun in the sun with no regrets!
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