Don't be surprised to see Duramed FUTURES Tour player Ryann O'Toole talking about sun safety during LPGA Tour telecasts.
That's because the second-year professional from San Clemente, California is now serving as a national player ambassador for the Women's Dermatologic Society's (WDS) "Play Safe In The Sun" community outreach program. The campaign promotes year-round sun safety and skin cancer prevention.
It also brings teams of local dermatologists to tournaments on both the LPGA and Duramed FUTURES Tours to offer free skin cancer screenings, sun damage assessments, and sun-safety education to players, caddies and fans.
"The sun is very damaging to your skin," said O'Toole, a two-time winner on the 2010 Duramed FUTURES Tour. "If you don't cover yourself, you're at risk. Sunscreen is a block, but it doesn't keep the sun away."
O'Toole should know. Not only is she a golfer from a Southern California culture that values tan and fit bodies, but all of her hobbies are outdoor sports. When not playing professional tournament golf, she's often surfing, wakeboarding or snowboarding.
"Even in the winter, your face can get fried when you're skiing or snowboarding," added O'Toole, who played college golf at UCLA and is a cast member on the Golf Channel's "Big Break Sandals Resorts" show. "The snow reflects the sun and you have to protect your skin."
Admittedly, there was a time when O'Toole visited tanning beds to "even out" her golf tan lines before high school dances or weddings, and there were many sunny afternoons when sunscreen was just an afterthought. But when her grandfather was diagnosed with skin cancer, her family became acutely aware of the need to practice safer habits in the sun.
"I don't go to tanning beds any more," said O'Toole. "I'm not going to waste my skin on that. We are out in the sun enough as golfers. I don't want old and wrinkly skin, or skin cancer."
As an ambassador for the WDS, O'Toole has filmed a Public Service Announcement (PSA) geared to educate the public about sun protection. The PSAs will run 24 times in LPGA telecasts for the remainder of the year. LPGA star Paula Creamer also has lent her name and likeness to WDS printed materials advocating sun-safety measures.
According to Nancy FitzGerald, the director of communications for the WDS, O'Toole is "perfect for the role" as a spokesperson for sun safety.
"Ryann represents everything that's great about youth, but she has a family history of skin cancer, and many of the sports she enjoys can put her at risk due to prolonged exposure to the sun," said FitzGerald. "Plus, with what the dermatologists refer to as her ‘Fitzpatrick' Type 1 skin, with blue eyes and light-colored hair, she could be even more at risk in the sun."
FitzGerald says the "Play Safe In The Sun" outreach program (www.playsafeinthesun.org ) especially attempts to reach women, who have experienced a dramatic rise in melanoma in recent years. Thanks to an outreach grant from L'Oreal USA, WDS is able to host community service events at LPGA and Duramed FUTURES Tour tournaments. Their next event will be held at the developmental tour's Greater Richmond Golf Classic in Richmond, Va., set for Aug. 13-15.
"If we can reach the women in the family, she's more inclined to help other family members get checked," added FitzGerald. "And working with Ryann, we also wanted to reach out to younger women, who often are in denial and don't think they need to protect themselves from the sun."
Now in its sixth year of involvement with the LPGA, the WDS has recorded a 42 percent referral rate from screenings of players, caddies and fans. That number reflects the percentage of individuals who were referred to doctors for biopsies and diagnoses after visiting the free screenings held on site at LPGA tournaments.
But it's not just blonde-haired, blue-eyed individuals like O'Toole who are susceptible to harm from the sun. Research has shown that Latin-Americans, Asians and African-Americans can also be at risk for developing skin cancer and other harmful effects of the sun.
"Though skin cancer is less common in melanin-rich skin, it can often not be detected in darker skin types until it is more advanced," added FitzGerald. "That's why regular visits to the dermatologist are so important."
O'Toole says she is taking her role seriously when given a chance to talk about sun safety and skin protection. She has helped youngsters in the Duramed FUTURES Tour's junior golf clinics understand the need to use sunscreen when they play golf or go to the pool. She encourages them to use a "golfball-size amount" of 30-50 SPF sunscreen to cover their bodies. She also urges them to reapply sunscreen after every nine holes.
"Sun exposure adds up over time when you're a little kid," said O'Toole, who also wears hats and lightweight leggings under her golf skorts to help block the sun during tournament rounds. "I grew up in the sun and now I know I have to think about my actions. At the end of the day, a scar where they've had to cut out skin cancer is going to look a lot worse than untanned skin."
Topics: Otoole, Ryann