By Kirsten Bannan, System Communications Intern
As the summer progresses the initial sunburn has faded and it’s time to think about protecting your skin. Everyone wants that bronze glow that comes with a summer tan, but most people are not aware of the damage the sun can cause to your skin and your health. Here are some facts and tips that will help you protect your skin this summer.
Skin Cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to Ultraviolet (UV) rays. The sun emits these rays and you can get extra exposure from using tanning beds or sun lamps. “People who use tanning salons are 2.5 times more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma, and 1.5 times more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma. According to recent research, first exposure to tanning beds in youth increases melanoma risk by 75 percent” (Skin Cancer Foundation). There are two types of UV radiation that affect the skin: UVA and UVB. Both kinds of rays can cause skin cancer, weaken the immune system, contribute to premature aging of the skin, and cataracts (See our Cataract Awareness Article).
• UVA Rays– they are not absorbed by the ozone layer and penetrate skin to contribute to premature aging. “They account for up to 95 percent of the UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface” (Skin Cancer Foundation). UVA is the prevalent tanning ray; tanning itself is actually damage to the skin’s DNA. The Skin gets darker in an attempt to protect from further DNA damage.
• UVB Rays– they are partially absorbed by the ozone layer and are the primary cause to sunburn. They play a very large role in the development of skin cancer. The most intensive UVB rays hit the Earth around 10am to 4pm from April to October.
There are protective measures that you can take to prevent against damage and skin cancer. Since the sun can damage your skin in as few as 15 minutes, it’s important to put sunscreen on when you know you will be outside for an extended period of time. Sunscreen works by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering sunlight. They contain chemicals that interact with the skin to protect it from UV rays.
Here are some other tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on sun safety:
• A wet T-shirt offers much less UV protection than a dry one, and darker colors may offer more protection than lighter colors.
• A regular T-shirt has an SPF rating lower than 15, so use other types of protection as well.
• Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure.
o Sunglasses that block both UVA and UVB rays offer the best protection. Most sunglasses sold in the United States, regardless of cost, meet this standard. Wrap-around sunglasses work best because they block UV rays from sneaking in from the side.
• SPF. Sunscreens are assigned a sun protection factor (SPF) number that rates their effectiveness in blocking UV rays. Higher numbers indicate more protection. You should use a broad spectrum sunscreen with at least SPF 15.
• Reapplication. Sunscreen wears off. Put it on again if you stay out in the sun for more than two hours and after swimming, sweating, or toweling off.
• Cosmetics. Some makeup and lip balms contain some of the same chemicals used in sunscreens. If they do not have at least SPF 15, don’t use them by themselves.
Sunscreen is one of the best ways of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful rays. Make sure to get a sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen labels that have “Broad Spectrum” means they protect against both kinds of rays. You also want to make sure to know the difference between “water resistant” and “waterproof”. The American Cancer Society says that “No sunscreens are waterproof or “sweat proof,” and manufacturers are no longer allowed to claim that they are. If a product’s front label makes claims of being water resistant, it must specify whether it lasts for 40 minutes or 80 minutes while swimming or sweating”. They recommend reapplying every two hours and even sooner if you are sweating or swimming.
No matter what summer activities you have planned this summer, make sure you protect your skin from the sun’s harmful rays. It takes 2 minutes to apply sunscreen and that can help save you from a lifetime of skin damage or even skin cancer.
Take a Sun Safety IQ Quiz from the American Cancer Society: