Summer Time Sun Damage

It’s hot outside, the kids are itching to go play at the beach, and you know everyone’s epidermis needs some level of protection. But the latest news about skin safety is so overwhelming, sitting in a dark room seems the only safe option.

You’re right to worry. “People who mean well often don’t get the protection they need,” says Vernon Sondak, division chief for cutaneous oncology at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Fla.

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in America. At its simplest, it is the abnormal growth of skin cells and comes in three forms.

Basal cell carcinoma is the most common and affects the cells at the lowest layer of the epidermis, while squamous cell carcinoma affects the middle layer of the skin.

Melanoma – the most serious and deadly form – attacks cells producing pigment.

Nearly 54,000 people a year are diagnosed with this level of the disease, says the National Cancer Institute.

The more you know about the dangers of skin cancer, and the more you learn about how to protect yourself, the safer you and your loved ones will be.

Can Sun Exposure Boost My Vitamin D?

Recent research ties heading out in the sun to increased levels of Vitamin D, a key nutrient for bone strength, and that news has been embraced by those who use tanning beds to obtain a darker tone. But the debate continues. For example, the American Academy of Dermatology suggests that diet and supplements can be better sources of Vitamin D than sun worshipping.

“It’s not an endorsement to go out in the sun every day. Ten to 15 minutes in the sun, twice a week is sufficient epidermis exposure for Vitamin D,” says Neil Fenske, chairman of the University of South Florida’s department of dermatology. “There’s no doubt about it, sun exposure causes sun damage and wrinkling.”

What Ingredients Should Sunscreen Include?

Sunscreens are the most well-known source of skin protection, but it seems every day a new product comes online suggesting it’s the best available. SPF, or sun protection factor, numbers are standard on all sunscreens and address the level of protection from ultraviolet B – or medium-length light waves.

Worry less about the SPF number, which looks at the length of time between applications, and more about the spectrum of coverage, Fenske says.

Make sure the sunscreen addresses both UVB and UVA, or longer light waves. Look for a combination of ingredients that are organic (absorbing) and inorganic (reflective) ingredients.

Organics like octyl methoxycinnamate (OMC) or oxybenzone absorb UV radiation and dissipate it as heat, according to the Library of Congress.

The old-school white lotions with zinc oxide or titanium oxide scatter UV rays off the skin.

How Do I Assess Blemishes and Moles?

Moffitt operates an annual sun safety bus tour, screening visitors to Tampa Bay Rays spring training games, and finds plenty of people who wonder or worry about their skin. About 15 percent of the 695 people screened this year were found to have a suspected skin cancer lesion or mole. Nearly 40 percent had other suspicious pre-cancerous lesions or moles.

Sondak says people who make a point of knowing their skin don’t have to wait for their “mole patrol” to assess their skin. He says you should examine your skin in front of a mirror once a month and note any changes. Ask the ABCs of skin cancer: Is a mole or growth asymmetrical? Is its border irregular or notched? Does the mole’s color vary in shades of browns, blues, red or black? Is its diameter larger than a pencil eraser? Is it elevated from the skin?

Will Special Clothing Make A Difference?

Any clothing that keeps the sun off your skin is good. Clothes designed with sunscreen in them, or with it washed in with a product like RIT Sun Guard additive, are likely to be more comfortable – and costly. That protection is better than sunscreen because it doesn’t come off in the water, Fenske says.

The best advice may be to have two or three tightly-woven shirts to wear whenever you’re gardening, fishing, playing golf or goofing around outside. A plain white T-shirt, for example, will provide protection comparable to sunscreen with an SPF of 6. “If you can see through it, it’s not giving you enough protection,” Sondak says.

Are Kids More Sensitive To The Sun?

Between 75 percent and 80 percent of all lifetime exposure happens before a person turns 18 years old, both doctors say. That means parents have an enormous responsibility to cover up their kids and teach good sun safety habits. Children younger than 6 months shouldn’t be exposed to the sun at all, Fenske says. But this fact doesn’t mean adults can blow off the risks. Research indicates that adults who avoid the sun lower their risk of skin cancer. More important to our vanity is the need to understand that sunburns and overexposure play a huge role in the advancement of wrinkles, Sondak says.

Will Eating Certain Foods Lower My Cancer Risk?

Observational research the past few years has proposed that eating bright-colored fruits rich in antioxidants can reduce the risk of skin cancer. Sondak says while the concept isn’t far-fetched, it’s anything but conclusive. “You want to eat tomatoes and mangoes? Knock yourself out. … But we certainly don’t know if that’s going to curb cancer,” Sondak says. Cover up instead, he cautions.

Are Some Body Parts More At Risk?

Yes and no. Any skin exposed to the sun is at risk.

However, Fenske notes that a lot of patients he sees with skin cancers seem to overlook their ears and necks. Men forget a balding scalp, too. The nooks and crannies of the ear, Fenske says, are a common site for “dastardly cancers.”


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