The Truth About Sunscreen And Sun Damage

organic-sunscreenHere we are half way through summer and visions of blue waters, blazing sun, tanned skin and bikini lines greet us at every turn. It is a fabulous free spirited time of year, but do you know at what cost?

The skin is our largest organ and compromised of 3 layers, the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous tissue. Each of these layers have multiple sub layers that protect us from the daily trauma of exposure. The greatest and continuous trauma occurs from the sun’s rays.

The epidermis, the outer layer, contains melanin that protects us from UVA and UVB rays. Although it is a known fact, sun exposure allows our body to convert to the necessary Vitamin D, too much causes breakdown of the epidermis which causes more melanin to form. This results in a sun tan. However, the structures from the breakdown weakens the skin’s elasticity and degrades collagen fibers. And this process leads to premature aging, or in another words, wrinkles. But even worse,can lead to skin cancers.

So how can you reap the benefits of Mother Nature’s light and protect the greatest organ that wraps our body?

Here are some basic facts as studied by The Skin Care Foundation:

  1. When compared to people who have never tanned indoors, indoor tanners have a higher risk of all forms of skin cancer. A controlled dose of tanning lamp radiation is a high dose: Frequent tanners using new high-pressure sunlamps may receive as much as 12 times the annual ultraviolet A (UVA) dose they receive from sun exposure.
  2. Our bodies can produce some vitamin D following exposure to the Sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation. However, after a limited amount of sun exposure , vitamin D production reaches its maximum. Further UV exposure will actually break down vitamin D to inactive compounds!
  3. Just because you can’t see your shadow doesn’t mean you’re safe from the sun’s damaging rays. Up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate through clouds and fog.
  4. There is no such thing as a safe or protective tan; any tan at all is a sign of skin damage. Skin tans in response to UV damage to the skin’s DNA; a tan is the skin’s attempt to repair sun damage and prevent further injury. But these imperfect repairs can cause gene defects that can lead to skin cancer.
  5. A sunscreen’s SPF (sun protection factor) indicates that it protects against UVB rays, but you need protection from both UVB and UVA.
  6. People of color are less likely to develop skin cancer than Caucasians, but they have a higher risk of dying from it. A very dangerous and fast-spreading skin cancer known as acral lentiginous melanoma is more common among darker-skinned people and may appear as a suspicious growth in the mucous membranes, under the nails, or on the palms or soles of the feet. Whatever your skin color, protect yourself, perform regular skin self-exams, and obtain a professional full-body skin exam every year.
  7.  While glass does block most UVB rays, UVA radiation can get through. Which means that even indoors or in a car with the windows up, you can tan or burn. However, you can have special window film installed that blocks most UVA radiation as well.

So how can you decrease your risk of developing skin cancer and help prevent a wrinkle or two? The American Cancer Society has put forth extensive research and offer the simple but incredibly effective ways to decreasing your risks.

  1. Seek shade: Limit your exposure to UV light,particularly between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm. To check how strong the sun’s rays are, use the shadow test: if your shadow is shorter than you are, the sun’s rays are the strongest, and it’s important to protect yourself.
  2. Protect your skin with clothing.

    a.  Clothes provide different levels of UV protection. Long-sleeved shirts, long pants, or long skirts cover the most skin and are the most protective. Dark colors generally provide more protection than light colors. A tightly woven fabric protects better than loosely woven clothing. Dry fabric is generally more protective than wet fabric.b.  If you can see light through a fabric, UV rays can get through, too.

    c.  Some companies now make clothing that’s lightweight, comfortable, and protects against UV exposure even when wet. These sun-protective clothes may have a label listing the UV protection factor (UPF) value.

    d.  Newer products, which are used in the washing machine like laundry detergents, can increase the UPF value of clothes you already own. They add a layer of UV protection to your clothes without changing the color or texture. This can be useful, but it’s not exactly clear how much it adds to protecting you from UV rays.

  3. Use sunscreen: Sunscreen is just a filter – it does not block all UV rays. Sunscreen should not be used as a way to prolong your time in the sun.Read the labels. Sunscreens with broad spectrum protection (against both UVA and UVB rays) and with sun protection factor (SPF) values of 30 or higher are recommended.Sun protection factor (SPF): The SPF number is the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. A higher SPF number means more UVB protection (although it says nothing about UVA protection). For example, when applying an SPF 30 sunscreen correctly, you get the equivalent of 1 minute of UVB rays for each 30 minutes you spend in the sun. So, 1 hour in the sun wearing SPF 30 sunscreen is the same as spending 2 minutes totally unprotected. People often do not apply enough sunscreen, so the actual protection they get is less.Sunscreens labeled with SPFs as high as 100+ are available. Higher numbers do mean more protection. SPF 15 sunscreens filter out about 93% of UVB rays, while SPF 30 sunscreens filter out about 97%, SPF 50 sunscreens about 98%, and SPF 100 about 99%. The higher you go, the smaller the difference becomes.

    Sunscreens with an SPF lower than 15 must now include a warning stating that the product has been shown only to help prevent sunburn, not skin cancer or early skin aging.

    Broad spectrum sunscreen: Sunscreen products can only be labeled “broad spectrum” if they have been tested and shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Some of the chemicals in sunscreens that help protect against UVA rays include avobenzone (Parsol 1789), ecamsule, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide. Only broad spectrum sunscreen products with an SPF of 15 or higher can state that they help protect against skin cancer and early skin aging if used as directed with other sun protection measures.

    Water resistant sunscreen: Sunscreens are no longer allowed to be labeled as “waterproof” or “sweatproof” because these terms can be misleading. Sunscreens can claim to be “water resistant,” but they have to state whether they protect the skin for 40 or 80 minutes of swimming or sweating, based on testing.

    Expiration dates: Check the expiration date on the sunscreen to be sure it’s still effective. Most sunscreen products are good for at least 2 to 3 years, but you may need to shake the bottle to remix the sunscreen ingredients.

    Be sure to apply the sunscreen properly. If you’re going to wear insect repellent or makeup, put the sunscreen on first. Ideally, about 1 ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass or palmful) should be used to cover the arms, legs, neck, and face of the average adult. Sunscreens need to be reapplied at least every 2 hours to maintain protection. And don’t forget your lips. Sunless tanning products, such as bronzers and extenders give skin a tan or golden color. But unlike sunscreens, these products provide very little protection from UV damage.

  4. Wear a hat. A hat with at least a 2- to 3-inch brim all around is ideal because it protects areas that are often exposed to intense sun, such as the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp. A dark, non-reflective underside to the brim can also help lower the amount of UV rays reaching the face from reflective surfaces such as water. A shade cap (which looks like a baseball cap with about 7 inches of fabric draping down the sides and back) also is good, and will provide more protection for the neck. These are often sold in sports and outdoor supply stores. If you don’t have a shade cap (or another good hat) available, you can make one by wearing a large handkerchief or bandana under a baseball cap.
    A baseball cap protects the front and top of the head but not the neck or the ears, where skin cancers commonly develop. Straw hats are not as protective as hats made of tightly woven fabric.
  5. Wear sunglasses that block UV rays. Research has shown that long hours in the sun without protecting your eyes increase your chances of developing certain eye diseases.The ideal sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Labels that say “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” mean the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays. Those labeled “cosmetic” block about 70% of UV rays. If there is no label, don’t assume the sunglasses provide any UV protection. Darker glasses are not necessarily better because UV protection comes from an invisible chemical in or applied to the lenses, not from the color or darkness of the lenses. Look for an ANSI label. Large-framed and wraparound sunglasses are more likely to protect your eyes from light coming in from different angles.
  6. Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. Many people believe the UV rays of tanning beds are harmless. This is not true. Tanning lamps give out UVA and UVB rays . Both UVA and UVB rays can cause long-term skin damage, and can contribute to skin cancer. Tanning bed use has been linked with an increased risk of melanoma, especially if it’s started before the age of 30.
  7. Get annual skin check ups with a dermatologist. Just like getting your heart or lungs examined, the skin is our largest organ and should not be neglected. A small mole may be nothing, or it could be cancer caught in the early stages.

Go on and enjoy those sandy beaches but remember the sun never takes a holiday. Protect your skin and protect yourself. Follow these simple guidelines and you may have just averted the need for Botox!