Sunscreen May Not Be Enough Protection
< May. 14, 2008 > -- Sunscreens are one of the most popular protections people use as the summer sun sizzles and threatens to burn their skin with harmful ultraviolet rays.
Sunburns are not only painful, but they also can lead to skin cancer, the most prevalent form of cancer in the United States.
Yet, new research has led some to question the effectiveness of many sunscreens.
A recent study by the Environmental Working Group found that one in every eight name-brand sunscreens did not protect against ultraviolet A (UVA) rays. These UVA rays have traditionally been linked to tanning, but doctors now know they can cause long-term damage and skin cancer. The SPF - or sun protection factor - rating currently placed on all sunscreens only reflects the lotion's effectiveness in blocking ultraviolet B (UVB) rays.
Feeling the Burn?
As a result of such research, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is in the process of approving a new regulation that would set standards for testing and labeling sunscreens for UVA protection as well as for UVB. These regulations are sure to highlight many discussions during May, which has been designated Melanoma/Skin Cancer Detection and Prevention Month.
The incidence of sunburns has increased in the United States, a sign that many people are not using proper sun protection. A recent study by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that sunburn rates increased from 31.8 percent to 33.7 percent from 1999 to 2004.
Know the Different Types of UV Rays
Sunburn damage to the skin is a direct cause of skin cancer, says Dr. Martin Weinstock, a professor of dermatology at Brown University Medical School. "Most cancers in the United States are skin cancer, and incidences are rising while the incidences of most other types of cancer are remaining stable or going down," Dr. Weinstock says.
"The most important avoidable cause we know about is exposure to ultraviolet radiation," he adds.
Sunlight is composed of the visible light that we can see, and ultraviolet (UV) light that we cannot. There are two types of UV light - UVA and UVB. While UVA rays are responsible for tanning and UVB for sunburn, both can damage the skin and increase the risk of skin cancer.
"Slip, Slop, Slap" to Prevent Skin Cancer
Most skin cancers form in older people, on parts of their bodies that have experienced more exposure to the sun, or in people who have weakened immune systems.
The most deadly form of skin cancer is melanoma, which forms in the skin cells that make the pigment melanin - often as a mole. The US National Cancer Institute estimates there will be 62,480 new cases of melanoma in the United States in 2008, and about 8,420 deaths caused by the disease. By comparison, there will be more than 1 million new cases of non-melanoma skin cancers in 2008, with fewer than 1,000 deaths.
Experts recommend a multiple approach to protecting yourself against harmful rays. "The American Cancer Society has a slogan - 'Slip, Slop, Slap,' " Dr. Weinstock says."Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat."
"We found that most sunscreens are not effective in filtering out ultraviolet radiation or have problems with toxic hazards," Mr. Markey says.
Not only do many sunscreens fail to protect against UV radiation, but they also break down over normal usage and develop toxic components, the group's study found.
Mr. Markey notes that sunscreen makers also make claims that cannot stand up to the light of day. For example, even sunscreens that boast "all-day protection" must be regularly reapplied to avoid skin damage, he says.
Given the mandatory approval process, any new labeling featuring the UVA ratings alongside the current SPF rating won't appear on store shelves until 2009 at the earliest.
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Helpful hints for protecting yourself from the sun
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers suggestions to keep ultraviolet rays from damaging your skin. Protection from sun exposure is important all year round, not just during the summer or at the beach.
There are three types of UV rays: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB), and ultraviolet C (UVC). UVA is the most abundant source of solar radiation at the earth's surface and penetrates beyond the top layer of human skin. Scientists believe that UVA radiation can cause damage to connective tissue and increase a person's risk for developing skin cancer.
UVC radiation is extremely hazardous to skin, but it is completely absorbed by the stratospheric ozone layer and does not reach the surface of the earth.
A: When possible, avoid outdoor activities during midday, when the sun's rays are strongest. This usually means the hours between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. You can also wear protective clothing, such as a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved shirt, and long pants.
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