Sun damage can cause immediate effects (sunburn) and delayed effects (aging, wrinkles, age spots, broken capillaries). Even one sunburn can drastically increase one’s risk of skin cancer later in life. Chronic sun exposure through tanning either in natural sunlight or in a tanning bed causes signs of aging and skin damage leading to increased risk for skin cancer.
Cause of Sun Damage
The sun produces both visible and invisible rays. The invisible rays, known as ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB), cause the most damage. There is no “safe” ultraviolet (UV) light and there is no such thing as a safe tan.
Sun protection helps prevent skin damage, wrinkles, and helps reduce the risk of developing skin cancer. New, broad-spectrum sunscreens contain products that block both UVA and UVB rays. Sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours and avoid sunbathing, wear a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and protective clothing when outdoors. Colorless dyes are available as laundry products which will increase the SPF of fabrics to an SPF of 30. If you must be in the sun, use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30.
How sunscreens work
Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting, or scattering the sun’s rays on the skin. They are available in many forms, including ointments, creams, gels, lotions, sprays, and wax sticks. All are labeled with SPF numbers. The higher the SPF, the greater the protection from a sunburn which is mostly caused by UVB rays – but this does not increase the length of time for safe sun exposure between applications (every 2 hours). Broad-spectrum sunscreens protect against both UVA and UVB rays. They do a better job of protecting skin from other effects of the sun including photo damage.
Types of Sunscreens
Sunscreens that block UVB rays are composed of some or all of the following chemicals: padimate O, homosalate, octyl methoxycinnamate, benzophenone, octyl salicylate, phenylbenzimidazole sulfonic acid, and octocrylene. Broad-spectrum sunscreens add oxybenzone or avobenzone (Parsol 1789) to block UVA rays. Mexoryl, helioplex, active photo barrier complex are chemicals that block UVA; their broad-spectrum characteristics allow sunscreens to be made with very high SPF factors. Physical sunscreens/blocks or chemical-free sunscreens contain titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide, which reflect UVA and UVB and are especially useful for people allergic to chemical sunscreens. It is safe to use sunscreen on children. You may want to choose a chemical free one, such as Blue Lizard for babies, Neutrogena Sensitive Skin sunscreen, Vanicream for sensitive skin, and Solbar Shield, Blue Lizard for sensitive skin, CVS zinc oxide, Walgreens Zinc Oxide, Neutrogena Pure and Free baby sunblock, Aveeno Natural Protection Mineral Block for Adults and Aveeno Baby Natural Protection Mineral Block. Any Neutrogena sunscreen with Purescreen has Zinc ands titanium.
If you do not have sensitive skin several brands which are good are Neutrogena sunscreens with helioplex, Coppertone Sport & Coppertone Spectra 3 sunscreens, Aveeno brand sunscreens with “Active Photobarrier Complex”, and Solbar sunscreens are also good choices. Waterproof sunscreens include Coppertone Sport, Banana Boat Sport, and Bullfrog. For daily facial sunscreens you can try Neutrogena Daily Defense, Olay UV Complete, Aveeno Skin Brightening, Cetaphil daily facial moisturizer SPF 50, and Eucerin Everyday Protection.
Tips for Sun Protection
There has been some controversy over oxybenzone in sunscreens. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) claims that this can affect hormonal balance, however both dermatologists and oncologists do not believe there is evidence of this in humans. If you want to avoid oxybenzone, chemical – free sunscreens and Solbar Zinc sunscreens do not contain this chemical. If you would like to see a complete list of EWG safe sunscreens visit their website.
The controversy over vitamin D can be confusing. If you are concerned you are not getting enough vitamin D, eat foods that contain vitamin D and discuss with your provider regarding supplements.
Tanning beds are not safer than sun exposure. UV light from any source can cause skin cancer and signs of aging, like wrinkles, brown spots, and broken blood vessels. Tanning beds may increase the risk of developing melanoma by 75%. The only safe tan is one from a self tanner. Self-tanning products contain dihydroxyacetone which produce a tan color that does not wash off. However, spray tans can be inhaled and are unsafe for the lungs. A self tanner is not a sunscreen which will still need to be applied every two hours.
Skin self exams are important. If you develop any new spots, non-healing sores, growing moles, or painful growths, you should see your primary doctor or a dermatologist. It is wise to have a yearly skin exam by a physician to detect any skin cancer early. If skin cancers are detected early they are all easily treatable.