Sun exposure creates healthy cancer-fighting Vitamin D production yet too much sun leads to cancer. How can we protect ourselves and still enjoy the benefits?
New FDA regulations and the Environmental Working Group’s studies help you keep safe in the summer sun.
According to a new study, UV is responsible for 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers, which will afflict one out of every five Americans, and 65 percent of melanoma cases, which kill about 8,700 people a year.
Labeling laws can be misleading. The average person reading fine print is most likely unaware of the information and without guidelines is at a loss to understand the implications of many of the key ingredients. Many opinions offer solutions which create even more consumer confusion concerning the risks of sun exposure versus the chemicals used in the formulas for sunscreens themselves. Furthermore, according to Nancy Alderman, President of the non-profit, Environment and Human Health, sunscreen efficacy last only a year. Many people don’t know that they should replace their sunscreen each summer and venture out into the sun completely vulnerable, despite their sunscreen-slathering intentions.
Last week for the first time in more than 30 years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new regulations is attempting to ban sunscreen manufacturers from labeling their products with misleading information. Starting next year, products that protect the skin from burning but not from long-term damage must indicate so on the bottle. Additionally, labeling cannot hint that they have greater durability and strength than they actually possess.
According to Dr. Zalman S. Agus, Emeritus Professor at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, overall health benefits from increased sun exposure may outweigh the risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin D seems to protect against cancers including breast, colon, kidney, and ovarian cancers. Studies have also linked vitamin D or sun exposure to benefits in increased mortality, defense against prostate cancer, multiple sclerosis, bone health, as well as the decreased occurrence of cardiovascular events in hypertensive patients.
A population-wide increase in sun exposure improves vitamin D status, but is controversial because it has been blamed for the high and increasing incidence rates of melanoma.
“These issues have health consequences far beyond those of cancer because a number of diseases are associated with inadequate vitamin D levels or low sun exposure: neurological, cardiovascular, metabolic, immune, and bone diseases,” Agus said and then added, “although milk, cod liver oil, and supplements can supply vitamin D, solar radiation is still a main source for humans.
According to Dr. Margaret Kripke of the National Cancer Institute, doctors have long known that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun produces profound changes in human skin. “Even one day’s exposure can cause damage,” says Dermatologist Fred Urbach of Temple University in Philadelphia. The most insidious rays are the short wavelength UVB, which prevail during the peak sun hours (between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.). But new research has shown that even longer UVA waves, which are present all day, can promote skin cancer. The damage caused by these invisible rays ranges from ordinary sunburn, to the wrinkles and liver spots caused by years of sunbathing; from the precancerous dark patches known as actinic keratosis to ultimately cancer. Each of these is part of the same process, says Urbach. “First you look old, then if you’ve had a lot more sun, you get keratosis, and after that skin cancer. If we all lived long enough, we would all get skin cancer.”
What makes most sense is to avoid the sun during peak hours, wear a wide-brimmed hat, protective clothing and sunglasses. More importantly, don’t try to get a tan.
And if you are still wondering if you should use a commercial sunscreen some experts recommend, “The best protection is using a chemical with a physical blocker at once.” Physical blockers, usually metal oxides such as zinc oxide or titanium oxide, act like miniature mirrors, reflecting the sun’s rays before they can reach the skin. Chemical blockers, on the other hand, do not scatter UV rays.
Friends of the Earth takes issue with physical blockers when they are reduced to nanoparticle size in order to render sunscreens more transparent.The Environmental Working Group, on the other hand, accepts nanoparticles in non-powder, non-spray sunscreens, instead reserving its animus for certain chemical components such as oxybenzone. The body can absorb this ingredient through the skin, and the EWG claims that it has been linked to hormone disruption and sun-activated allergic reactions.
Best advice is to limit sun exposure during peak hours. Be vigilant in learning more about skin cancer and see a dermatologist if you have any changes in your skin. Prevention is key.