By Rebecca Drew
SKIN CANCER left this woman with scabs all over her face after her job as a real-life mermaid meant she couldn’t wear SPF without it washing off.
Business owner and yoga instructor, Stephanie Huff (46) who lives in Oceanside, California, USA, was dedicated to topping up her tan in her twenties and early thirties and would lie in the sun on foil covered in baby oil to gain a healthy glow.
Back then, the dangers of tanning and being in the sun were not that well known and skin cancer wasn’t something that Stephanie and her peers considered. It wasn’t until Stephanie was in her thirties that she started to apply sun protection religiously, wear hats and sunglasses as she had noticed some wrinkles, related to sun damage appear on her skin.
Stephanie, who has been working as a professional mermaid for her company at outdoor events since 2016, rarely reapplied sun cream throughout the day as she thought it would destroy the illusion of her being a magical creature for children.
Except for a few fine lines, Stephanie didn’t notice any signs of skin damage from the sun until late 2019 when she noticed recurring scabs on her forehead and nose which gradually got worse.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Stephanie’s dermatologist was closed for most of the quarantine lockdown, but she was able to get a virtual appointment via Zoom in June 2020 – where she was diagnosed with non-melanoma basal cell carcinoma.
Stephanie started treatment on her face in the form of a painful topical chemotherapy cream, fluorouracil, which can cause sore, red skin, for two weeks and hoped that this should be enough to eradicate the cancerous cells.
Ever since she started noticing a change in her skin, Stephanie has overhauled her skin care routine and never leaves the house without an SPF of at least 30, and wears sun hats and makes sure she stays in the shade whenever she is outside.
She is now using her experience to educate others about the dangers of the sun.
“In my twenties I’d use sunbeds at least three times a week. We had one in my house growing up,” said Stephanie.
“So, if it was bad weather or winter, and we couldn’t be out on the lake or by the pool, we’d use the tanning bed.
“In my twenties, we used to lay out covered in baby oil on top of aluminium foil. I felt young and invincible.
“We weren’t even really aware of the seriousness of skin cancer back then. It just wasn’t on our radar. Being tan made us all feel prettier and healthier.
“I got much better with applying sunscreen in my thirties, mostly vanity driven as I started to notice some wrinkles, but obviously the damage had already been done.
“I think most of the damage was definitely done before I started the mermaid business. However, as a mermaid, I definitely wasn’t using the right sunscreen before the events given that I wasn’t seeking out the super long lasting, waterproof, mineral sunscreens.
“As long as it was environmentally friendly, and SPF 30, I figured that was good enough. And I made a big mistake by not reapplying it throughout events. I thought it would ruin the illusion for the children.
“I developed recurring scabs on my forehead. I thought maybe it was just irritation from the baseball cap and sunglasses I wear when I run. But after about six months, I realised that was not the case. The scabs would not go away, and more kept appearing.
“My dermatologist was closed through most of quarantine except for emergencies. I finally broke down and asked for a virtual appointment since there was no definitive answer on when businesses would start opening back up.
“The doctor was great, super knowledgeable, and could tell right away from the video call (and some still images I sent), that these were basal cells.
“She gave me the option of coming in to have the cells frozen off, or to use the chemo cream (Fluorouracil). She recommended the cream given that she felt there were more cells, both cancerous and precancerous, underneath the surface, and not just on my forehead.”
Stephanie was frustrated by her diagnosis but was relieved that she didn’t need surgery to remove it.
She now intends on incorporating sun safety in her workshops with children.
“I was frustrated that I didn’t take skin care as seriously as I should have. But also relieved that we caught it early and it wasn’t melanoma that would’ve had to have been cut out,” said Stephanie.
“If no scabs reappear, then the cream did its job and I’ll be good to go for another year when it’s time for my annual check-up.
“For the last eight or nine months my skin care routine has been, in the morning a gentle cleanser, a peptide serum, a hyaluronic serum, and a sunscreen with at least SPF 30. At night, I use a gentle scrub cleanser, a peptide serum, a hyaluronic serum, a retinol and an oil (I alternate between Vitamin E, Coconut, and Rose Hip oils).
“I’m super diligent about sunscreen, and always wear hats when I’m outside now. The main difference is my dedication to sunscreen and hats, some extra anti-aging steps, and staying in the shade whenever I’m outside. I’m still researching which is the absolute best environmentally friendly sunscreen that also offers the most protection.
“I never realised how much sun exposure you get while driving, just walking from your car into places like the grocery store or into your office.
“Those little exposures where we don’t think we need coverage or sunscreen really do add up.”
Finally, Stephanie shared her words of advice to others.
“Wear sunscreen every damn day, no excuses. Even if you “don’t burn”. Even if you have a darker complexion. Even if there’s no history of skin cancer in your family,” she said.
“Apply, and reapply. There are great tinted moisturisers and self-tanners if you want to look bronzed.
“Mostly, just be mindful, aware. I think a lot of messes we get ourselves into are simply because we are not aware.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/mermaidingsd