Love the Skin You are In

July 04, 2017

For many people summer activities include getting a tan.  You might think that these people don’t know about the relationship between sun exposure and skin cancer.  But most of them do.  In fact, most persons have taken this information to heart and as a result now use a sunscreen for protection against damaging rays.  The paradox created here is that the message “use sunscreens” carried with it an interpretation that was never intended: “if you use a sunscreen, you can sit in the sun longer and at any time of the day.”  But this is not so.  (An analogy that might help you understand this is: Wearing a seatbelt does not mean that you can drive recklessly.)  The true message is that sunscreens protect against sunburn and some types of cancer.

It is very hard to convince those who seek a summer tan that they are putting themselves at risk for skin cancer. Skin damage from the sun is real and can be a primary cause of skin cancer for anyone at any age. While you may think a tan gives you a healthy glow, a tan is actually an injury, resulting from an assault on the skin by the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  

If you are going to continue to sunbathe, or if you will be outdoors in the sun for extended periods of time, you need to use a sunscreen product. The brand you choose doesn’t matter. (However, since products contain different chemical makeups, if one causes you some skin irritation or rash, try a different product.)  The main factors to consider are the SPF (sun protection factor) and whether or not it is a “Broad Spectrum” product. For the best protection, you should know that:

  • The SPF factor is based on the ability of the product to protect against UBV or the ultraviolet light that causes sunburn. However, while UVA doesn’t cause sunburns, it can also damage skin and contribute to cancer. Therefore you need to use a “Broad Spectrum” products (those that protect against UVA and UVB sun rays) in order to achieve protection against both types of UV rays. Sunscreens labeled with an SPF only and are not broad spectrum are protective only against sunburn.
  • You should choose products with an SPF of 15 or higher and are broad spectrum to help protect not only against sunburn, but also protect for skin cancer and skin aging when used as directed and with other sun protective measures. (If a “Broad Spectrum” has an SPF of less than 15, it can only be labeled to protect against sunburn.)
  • No products are “Waterproof” or “sweat-proof.” Products can be water-resistant or very water resistant and should be labeled as such with a 40 minutes or 80 minutes statement on duration.  However, they do need to be reapplied if the skin is wet or there is heavy sweating
  • Read the information that comes with the product to ensure proper usage. For example, spray products should not be applied to the face.
  • Sunscreens come in many forms including lotions, creams, sticks, gels, oils, butters, pastes and sprays. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved these forms but has not authorized nonprescription products for sunscreens in the form of wipes, towelettes, powders, body washes or shampoos.

Sunscreen products are part of protection of the skin from UV light. For the most effective protection, you should do the following:

  • Recognize that the sun’s rays can affect you during all seasons of the year. They can penetrate clouds. They reflect off surfaces like water, cement, sand and snow.
  • Limit time in the sun, especially between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. when the sun’s rays are strongest.
  • Wear clothing to cover skin exposed to the sun, including broad-rimmed hats.
  • Reapply sunscreen at least every 2 hours.
  • Use a water-resistant sunscreen when swimming or sweating, with frequent applications.
  • Check expiration dates. A sunscreen without an expiration date usually has a maximum shelf-life of 3 years. However, exposures of these products to high temperatures can cause the shelf-life to be shorter.
  • Products that have duel purposes, such as insect repellent and sunscreen are not the first choice for protection.  Apply sunscreen first followed by insect repellent.

As you enjoy the nice weather, don’t forget to protect your eyes from the sun’s rays. Exposure to UV rays may lead to eye problems like cataracts. Long hours without eye protection can result in a short-term condition known as “photo keratitis,” which is a reversible sunburn of the cornea in the eye. It can happen at the beach or from the snow. Sunglasses that offer 99 to 100 percent UV protection will help to protect your eyes from harmful rays. Be sure they are labeled “sunglasses” and are not just fashion glasses. Fashion glasses will reduce the glare, but do not prevent damage from UV rays. Children should wear real sunglasses, not toy sunglasses. Wrap-around styles offer the most protection.

 Certain medications can cause photosensitivity or photoallery. For a list of these medications, visit https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/ResourcesForYou/SpecialFeatures/ucm464195.htm

For more information on melanoma, Quinnipiack Valley Health District residents (Bethany, Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge) can receive free written materials by calling 203 248-4528 or request by email, dculligan@qvhd.org  If you have internet access, information is available at www.skincancer.org, http://www.cancer.gov or http://www.mayoclinic.org