Skin Safety in the Sun
It is summer time which means that a significant chunk of the population is headed to the beach and other outdoor venues, including water and amusement parks, ball fields, and lakes and hiking trails. The days are longer and warmer than they are any other time of year which is an invitation outside. For almost everyone this means a sudden increase in exposure to the sun and its UV radiation. Sensitive skin will quickly burn, reminding people to be careful the next time they venture out. Others will have been sun-weathered and will not notice the sun's impacts. And a few will wear sun protection to increase the length of time they can stay outside without becoming pink or red. Protecting your skin from the sun is one of the most important things you can do for yourself. Not only does it maintain your youthfulness and beauty, but it also helps to maintain good health.
UV RadiationClassified as a carcinogen, the sun's rays do significant damage to the skin. This classification officially happened in 2002: "Broad spectrum ultraviolet radiation produced by the sun and artificial light sources" such as tanning beds and sun lamps has been added to the latest installment of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' (NIEHS) bi-annual Report on Carcinogens (RoC), released Dec. 11 by the Department of Health and Human Services. It's one of four new entries added to a list of 228 substances known to cause cancer in humansâ€¦ â€śFor something to be listed as a known human carcinogen, there has to be sufficient evidence from studies on humans indicating a cause or relationship between exposure to the material and human cancer," says Bill Jameson, PhD, of the National Toxicology Program, and the scientist in charge of compiling the RoC. "There is a wealth of information (on the dangers of UV overexposure) from studies on people who have been exposed to radiation -- especially those who get sunburns," he says. The National Toxicology Program is a division of the NIEHS, the official delegate of the RoC, which updates its listing of known carcinogens every two years." In order to be listed on RoC, scientific data is presented over a two-year period before three separate panels comprising of recognized experts -- including dermatologists, researchers and other scientists, many of whom are not affiliated with various government health agencies that compile and review the carcinogens list," Jameson tells WebMD. (Source). UVA and UVB are two of the electromagnetic spectrums that come from the sun and reach the earth. Both are implicated in photoaging skin, damage to the eyes and and skin cancer, as well as immune suppression. Skin cancer can happen when the UV rays damage the skin's DNA. Most of the radiation that reaches the earth's surface from the sun is UVA. It reaches deeply into the skin impacting both the epidermis and the dermis layers and contributing significantly to the wrinkles that are a sign of premature aging. UVA radiation is what contributes to the skin becoming tan, which is an effect of damage and is cumulative. This is the type of radiation that is found in tanning salons, and it is exceptionally dangerous. UVB, on the other hand, mostly impacts the more shallow epidermal layer and is primarily responsible for causing sunburn. UVA rays can penetrate glass and thus impact people in their cars or inside of buildings, making it difficult to escape damage without taking extra care. (Source).
How To Protect the SkinBoth UVB and UVA radiation play a role in cancers including basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. (Source). Because damage is cumulative and builds every time you are exposed to the sun it is critical to make sure that you use sunscreen every day, even in the winter and when you are not outside. During the summer, when you are outside more often it is important to apply it more liberally and more frequently. Cancer.net has some great tips on how to properly choose and use a sunscreen:
- Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Make sure it is water resistant and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher. Other types of sunscreen may help prevent sunburn, but they will not protect against skin cancer.
- Use a lip balm or lipstick that contains sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.
- Apply at least 1 ounce of sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going outdoors. One ounce is enough sunscreen to fill a shot glass.
- Reapply sunscreen to your entire body every 2 hours. Reapply every hour if you are swimming or sweating.
- Sunscreen creams are better for dry skin. Gels are better for the scalp or hairy areas.
- Wear sunscreen year round whenever you are outside.
- Do not use sunscreens that have expired.
- Limit sun exposure. The sun's rays are the most intense between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM. Practice the shadow rule: if your shadow is shorter than you, you should find shade. Always keep babies younger than 6 months old completely covered and in the shade.
- Pay attention to the UV index. This numbered scale measures how damaging exposure to the sun will be on any particular day. It is often included in the weather report. When the index is 10 or higher, people should try to stay indoors.
- Be careful around reflective surfaces. Water, snow, and sand reflect the damaging rays of the sun and increase your risk of getting sunburned.
- Wear protective clothing and sunglasses. Make sure you have a long-sleeved shirt, long pants, and a hat that shades the face, neck, and ears. Dark clothing with tightly woven fabric blocks more sun than white or loosely woven fabrics. For additional protection, look for clothing made with special sun-protective materials. Make sure your sunglasses have 99% to 100% UV absorption.
- Be aware of medication side effects. Some medications may make you more sensitive to the sun. These include specific types of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antifungals, blood pressure medications, and some types of chemotherapy.
- Avoid recreational sunbathing. Also, do not use sun lamps, tanning beds, or tanning salons.