Living in the “Sunshine State,” sun protection should be at the forefront of all of our minds. We live in a gorgeous state with tons of outdoor activities to enjoy. However, proper sunscreen use, wearing UV protective sunglasses, and sun protective clothing, is crucial. This article will focus on the importance of sunscreen use and what to look for when selecting sunscreens and sunblocks.
Sunscreens are chemical agents that help protect our skin from the harmful effects of ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation comes in three forms: Ultraviolet A, B and C (UVA, UVB and UVC). UVA penetrates the skin deeper than UVB and is thought to cause more skin cancers as well as having a much greater effect on photo-aging and wrinkling of the skin. UVC is blocked by the ozone layer; however, tanning beds emit this kind of harmful ultraviolet radiation. UVB rays are the “burning rays” and most auto glass and windows block these rays. UVA penetrates through auto glass and significant exposure may occur while driving.
SPF means “Sun Protection Factor” and only refers to protection from UVB, not UVA. Over-the-counter sunscreens help block UVA and UVB, but there is a difference between “sunscreens” and “sunblocks.” An SPF of 15 blocks approximately 93 percent of the UVB. An SPF of 30 is not twice as effective; it only blocks 97 percent. An SPF of 45 blocks about 98 percent. These are not big differences, but in some people it may make a significant difference over time. There is currently no SPF rating for UVA. Therefore, look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen.
In practice, we sometimes get asked the question, “Do sunscreens cause cancer?” There have been some news reports recently by the Environmental Working Group questioning the cancer causing potential of the Vitamin A (Retinyl Palmitate) or oxybenzone found in many sunscreens. Many experts feel that Vitamin A is actually an antioxidant that may provide additional protection from harmful UV rays. Oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen, is excellent at UVA protection. In a study with rats, Oxybenzone was thought to interfere with the balance of the body’s hormones and lead to free radical formation. The theory is that there is an increased risk of skin cancer, namely melanoma. The truth is that Oxybenzone has been available for 20 plus years and has been studied extensively. The Skin Cancer Foundation’s photobiology committee has reviewed Oxybenzone and is not concerned with these accusations of Oxybenzone and rats.
Another question we get asked is, “If I don’t have sun exposure, how will I get Vitamin D?” Vitamin D is converted from an inactive form to an active form by UVB exposure. The issue becomes to weigh the risk potential from UVB and the benefit of Vitamin D. There is little argument that we all need Vitamin D, especially for a strong skeletal system. However, the recommendation is that we obtain our Vitamin D from our diet, not UVB exposure. The amount of Vitamin D recommended depends on your age and gender. It is important to check with your doctor about your Vitamin D level and what they recommend for your daily intake.
One of my favorite sun protection lines is La Roche-Posay. They have an excellent line of products with Mexoryl and Cell-Ox shield. This particular line was approved in Europe before the USA and therefore has been graded for UVA protection in Europe. Using the La Roche-Posay line is one way to ensure you are adequate UVA and UVB protected. I also am a big fan of sun protective clothing, hats, and umbrellas. There are many websites and stores that carry wonderful, trendy looking sun protective clothing. Using sun protective clothing and hats, as well as a broad-spectrum sunscreen has additive benefits.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the United States. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer in their lifetime. Malignant melanoma is a deadly form of skin cancer on the rise and sun exposure has been linked to it as well as basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. It is prudent to become educated on sun protection and sun avoidance. It is also important to get routine skin exams from a qualified health care professional. “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
• Avoid sun during the peak hours – between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
• Wear a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or greater every day.
• Use sun protective clothing, hats, and umbrellas in addition to sunscreens.
• Apply 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply every 80 minutes or more frequently, if sweating or swimming.
• Avoid tanning beds. They have been shown to increase the risk of malignant melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer.
• Get skin exams annually by a qualified expert in skin cancer. The ABCDEs of moles and melanoma is a good guideline to use to monitor your moles.
Dr. Frank Armstrong is a board certified dermatologist at Dermatology Specialists of West Florida, 5200 Seminole Blvd.