Sun & Skin

More than one million Americans are diagnosed with skin cancer each year.  Many more are diagnosed with pre-cancerous conditions.  These numbers continue to increase, not only in the U.S., but worldwide.  A nice dark tan looks great, but is it healthy?  The notion that sunscreen is an occasional summer-only accessory is still prevalent, yet mistaken. 

Exposure to UVA wavelengths is probably the most important factors contributing to the rise of skin cancer.  UVA rays were previously thought of as harmless, however, these UVA rays are now known to contribute significantly to skin damage, skin cancer, & immune system suppression.  

UVA wavelengths penetrate the skin deeper and, unlike UVB rays (which cause initial redness & burning), create damage that is not immediately detected. 

Long-term exposure to sunlight damages the epidermis (the outer layer of skin) and the dermis, (deeper layer where skin’s framework exists), causing elastin fibers to thicken and become more numerous.  Damage to collagen causes it to undergo degradation.  This equals wrinkling and thinning of the skin.  Also, sunburns in childhood appear to set the stage for high rates of melanoma in later life. So, they especially need to be protected.

Good News – With some simple & consistent steps, sun damaged skin can be avoided, even repaired.  Sun related damage can be minimized and some damage can be reversed.  A critical step is one’s awareness that sun protection must be used daily and year-round.  

Sunlight is a primary source for vitamin D, which keeps our bones strong.  The current recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 200 IU from birth to age 50, 400 IU between age 51 & 70, and 600 IU after age 71.  Recent studies suggest that 1,000 IU a day may reduce the incidence of certain cancers, such as ovary, breast, and colon cancers by as much as 50%.  That is because vitamin D strengthens the immune system and supports cell growth.  Get your vitamin D by consuming a serving of oily fish (250-360 IU), one tablespoon of cod liver oil (1,360 IU) or through supplements taken alone or combined with calcium. 

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) – The number assigned to sunscreen represents the factor by which the time required for unprotected skin to become sunburned can be increased through the application of a sunscreen.        

Sun Protection Factor (SPF) – The number assigned to sunscreen represents the product’s ability to screen the sun’s burning rays, or UVBs.  An SPF of 15 protects against 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 protects from 97% and an SPF of 60 protects from 98% of UVB radiation.  Many dermatologists believe an SPF higher than 30 is of little value.  Generally, products with an extremely high SPF are thicker and heavier, and because they provide minimal added protection, they are often unnecessary.  People often incorrectly believe that re-application is not warranted when using a high SPF.  Nearly all sunscreen products break down and must be reapplied every 2 hours.  

One should look for “broad-spectrum” sunscreen which indicates a product’s ability to protect against both UVA & UVB rays.  The only way to ensure that a sunscreen absorbs UVA rays is to read the ingredient label.  At least one of the following ingredients must be listed: avobenzone, ecamsule titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.