A paper cut-out man scratching his head between two question marks.

Skin Care and Career Choices

I have been obsessed with good skincare practices since 1988, which is the year of my melanoma diagnosis. I take sun protection seriously and it has affected my daily decision-making for decades. It has led me to some personal relationships and away from others. It has influenced where I go, what I do, when I go, what I wear, how I recreate, socialize, and vacation, and for a long time now, it has determined where, when and how I work. It’s all-encompassing: skin cancer and work go hand in hand.

Skin cancer and work: how one influences the other

Just the other day, I was scrolling through a list of casting calls from film and television work. I completely ignored the jobs that would have required me to be outside for extended periods in the hottest parts of the day. Most of the time, I don’t have a say in what I am going to wear (wardrobe) or even how often I can apply sunscreen. I don’t have the option to take sun breaks and stand in shade. I cannot wear a hat or sunglasses when I need to. I am stuck, so I just gloss over those job opportunities.

It can be frustrating

This limits me and can be very frustrating, but I am not comfortable with being the sun for an extended period. It affects my job performance and concentration. I wrote about how it affected me on a movie I was in entitled Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. That day, I thought I was protected and then the Academy Award-winning costume designer changed my wardrobe on set, and my scalp was left unprotected for hours. My only thought is that I should have kept some sun sunscreen on me, but that is not easy to hide in 1920’s costumes and it would have been noticed.

Here is part of my strategy for maintaining good skincare practices while making smart career decisions

  • I research my potential job sites and work conditions. I check the Ultra Violet (UV) Index for a particular location and time. This tells me what kind of exposure I can expect.
  • I have a great understanding of what will be expected of me. Will I be expected to be in direct sunlight or around reflected rays near water? Can I take breaks? What will I be wearing? Will there be shade? Is there flexibility in any of these factors? Are those around me understanding of my sensitivities and situation? Can I change my environment?
  • I try to be creative in sun protection. (for example, can I carry a white handkerchief to use to cover my scalp in between takes during filming? Can I keep sunscreen on me?)
  • I express my concerns ahead of time. In my experience, most people care about their employees and their performance and will try to make some accommodation when possible. Generally, management has become increasingly aware of work conditions as unions and media exposure have expanded their influence and reach.)
  • I try to learn from my mistakes. I am not always right and sometimes I am left unprepared. As painful as that is, I try to educate myself about what I could have done differently and what was simply out of my control. Every day is a new opportunity to learn and improve.

Thankfully we have more freedom than we used to

Career agility is important as people move from job to job and career to career. Gone are the days when most people stayed with one company or organization their entire work lives. There are more choices than ever about how, when, and where people can work. This provides people like me with additional choices in being safe on the job. What are your thoughts?

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