Between a teenage modeling career and a long list of successful acting gigs (hello, Mission Impossible portfolio), Michelle Monaghan isn’t necessarily new to being in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t changed how she’s handled it. As the summer revs up, the 47-year-old is speaking up—and the topics hit everything from setting boundaries to sharing a very serious message on sun-safety.
It’s clear from your social media that you are on a mission to promote skin-cancer awareness. Can we talk through why this is such an important message for you?
First of all, thank you so much. I’m really glad people are seeing the messages. I was diagnosed with melanoma several years ago and, at the time of my diagnosis, I sincerely had no idea what skin cancer even was. My husband—who happens to be Australian and is very well-informed on skin cancer—had noticed a mole on the back of my calf. He encouraged me to go to the dermatologist to have it checked and I kept putting it off because I didn’t see how my mole had changed. I simply wasn’t paying any attention to it.
She biopsied it, and it turned out to be melanoma.
Upon my husband’s insistence, thank goodness, I finally went to the dermatologist. She biopsied it, and it turned out to be melanoma.
When my doctor called me and said, “This is serious—it’s melanoma,” even then I didn’t fully understand the potential severity of it. I was lucky to catch it at an early stage and, fortunately, I didn’t have to undergo any additional treatment. That experience was the catalyst for me to do a deep dive into everything about skin cancer and prevention.
And that’s where you are now.
I started to do a ton of research and I was blown away at how common skin cancer is but, ultimately, how preventative it can be if we’re sun-safe and are informed about it. I have two children, so as someone who might be predisposed to getting skin cancer, as well as just making sure that they’re protected in the sun, a good suncare routine became of paramount importance to me.
I’ve read studies that say 80-percent of our sun damage happens before the age of 18. That’s a profound statistic and, as a parent, I need to be more diligent in teaching my kids good sun habits, from an early age.
As a parent, I need to be more diligent in teaching my kids good sun habits, from an early age.
I didn’t have those sun habits when I was younger. I grew up in the country. I spent a lot of time outdoors and in fields. I spent time in a tanning bed—which is a huge no-no. I didn’t wear sunscreen. Cumulatively, those mistakes add up to sun damage and we honestly have no idea how that sun damage manifests. For me, unfortunately, it turned out to be melanoma.
I went public about my skin cancer a couple of years ago, in honor of Skin Cancer Awareness month, and I was so touched at how supportive people were—but moreover, how many people have been impacted by skin cancer. It inspired me to continue to bring awareness around the issue. When I get a call from a friend or if somebody messages me on Instagram and says, “Your post reminded me to go and get my skin-check with my dermatologist,” it warms my heart. I really like to center the conversation around prevention this time of year, specifically as we’re gearing up for summer, but I hope to continue the conversation all-year round.
It can be scary to get a skin-check, but I think when people see Instagram posts like yours, it makes it a little bit easier.
I hope it does. Even if you don’t have access to go to a dermatologist, I always try to tell people, take a picture of your mole. That’s one of my hacks. Take pictures, see if it changes, send it to your doctor even if you can’t get there, in person. There are a lot of little ways that we can be mindful about keeping an eye on our moles. Friends and partners help, too.
What does your sun protection look like nowadays?
It is daily! I typically start my day with at least an SPF 40. I use EltaMD, the UV Clear. I like things that are non-comedogenic. A lot of times, I break out with a lot of different sunscreens, specifically if they’re chemical, so my current preference is mineral. For the body, I use Supergoop! If you saw my suncare shelf, you wouldn’t believe it. [laughs] I actually took a couple of photos of the suncare basket I have going on, and then I have a suncare bag. I have it all. It’s everywhere. I’m never without it, that’s for sure.
You’ve been in this industry for a bit. What do you think you would be doing if you weren’t an actress?
I sincerely do not know. I’ve been asked that question before, and I just don’t know. I think, because I have been doing this for so long—for 20 years, fortunately—and I have been in front of a camera since my teens, I feel like this is simply and fortuitously, my dream career.
The one thing that I’ve always had an interest in, and it’s actually what I studied in college, is investigative journalism. When I reflect back on my journey, I think, “Oh gosh, it’s not a surprise I got into acting!” It’s what I do on a daily basis. I essentially research characters and do my own little creative investigation to play a part. It’s interesting that’s been part of my journey in discovering my career as an actress. I’m grateful for all those full-circle moments.
You started in the modeling industry when you were very young. Do you think the whole body-image conversation has improved over the years as opposed to when you first started out?
I will say it’s a complicated topic. I feel like when we’re talking about body image within the beauty industry, the modeling industry, social media, it’s really two steps forward, one step back. It’s something that I’m superconscious about because I have a teenage daughter. I am incredibly mindful of all of the things that she’s inundated with.
I do feel like there’s so much body positivity now, which I love. I appreciate how much more inclusive the industry has become as a whole and I hope we continue to lean in that direction.
I also appreciate our collective shift into the importance of mental health. As a woman who’s been a part of these industries for so long, I know our beauty standards are forever changing. I’ve certainly grown into the philosophy that beauty really is from the inside out.
Meditation is my personal reset everyday—putting down my phone and taking a break from the news cycle, social media and emails. Not always easy, but I try. My husband and I really try to model that behavior in our home, and we both hope these little things rub off on our own children in terms of how to take care of themselves—that includes the mind, body and spirit.
I’m simply more comfortable saying no, setting boundaries.
Whatever it is, it is important to talk about it. My last question, what is the best thing about getting older after growing up in this industry?
I’m simply more comfortable saying no, setting boundaries. Nowadays, I don’t have any problem advocating for myself or others for that matter. The voice that I didn’t use as much in my 20s is in full effect in my 40s, and I love that.
Photography by John Russo at 1Hotel West Hollywood; Makeup: Sarah Uslan for Visionaries Agency; Hair: Dennis Gotts for Forward Artists; Manicure: Tracey Clemens; Styling: Jennifer Austin; Production: Photohouse Productions