Skin Cancer: Sunscreen, UV rays & sun damage

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What should I look for in a sunscreen?

Always choose a sunscreen that is ‘Broad Spectrum’. This means that you are protected against both UVA & UVB rays, the two types of Ultraviolet (UV) radiation that reach the earth’s surface. If you plan to swim or sweat whilst outdoors, it is important also to choose a water resistant sunscreen and re-apply it as directed on the bottle.  Where possible, use a sunscreen with a high sun protection factor of 30 or above, although an SPF15 sunscreen is better than none at all. Sunscreens are either ‘physical’, such as zinc oxide/titanium-based sunscreens, or ‘chemical’ barrier sunscreen. Sensitive skin tends to require ‘physical’ barrier sunscreens.

What is the difference between UVA & UVB rays?

The various wavelengths of ultraviolet radiation are classified into three categories – UVA, B and C:

  • UVA rays are longer rays which penetrate the deepest into the skin (the dermis). They comprise 95% of the sun’s rays reaching earth and are responsible for ageing (due to collagen destruction). UVA rays can cause skin cancer, both benign and malignant, by suppressing the immune system of the skin, making us more prone to skin cancer. The rays can penetrate glass and are constant in intensity throughout the day and seasons.
  • UVB rays are shorter rays which penetrate only the surface layer of the skin (epidermis). They cause skin to burn and are most intense between 11am and 2pm.
  • UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, these lethal rays do not reach the Earth’s surface.
What damage are UV rays causing my skin?

UV rays can cause pigmentation and age spots, fine lines, wrinkle and large pores as a result of collagen depletion, and skin cancer of all kinds.

How can I protect myself from UV rays?

Always wear a hat (wide-brimmed if possible), sunscreen and sunglasses when outdoors, especially between the hours of 10am-4pm when the sun’s rays are at their most damaging.

What is sun damage?

Although most people love the warmth and light of the sun, too much sun exposure can significantly damage human skin. The sun’s heat dries out areas of unprotected skin and depletes the skin’s supply of natural lubricating oils. In addition, the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation can cause burning and long-term changes in the skin’s structure.

The most common types of sun damage to the skin are:

  • Dry skin — Sun-exposed skin can gradually lose moisture and essential oils, making it appear dry, flaky and prematurely wrinkled, even in younger people.
  • Sunburn — Sunburn is the common name for the skin injury that appears immediately after the skin is exposed to UV radiation. Mild sunburn causes only painful reddening of the skin, but more severe cases can produce tiny fluid-filled bumps (vesicles) or larger blisters.
  • Actinic keratosis — This is a tiny bump that feels like sandpaper or a small, scaly patch of sun-damaged skin that has a pink, red, yellow or brownish tint. Unlike suntan markings or sunburns, an actinic keratosis does not usually go away unless it is frozen, chemically treated or removed by a doctor. An actinic keratosis develops in areas of skin that have undergone repeated or long-term exposure to the sun’s UV light, and it is a warning sign of increased risk of skin cancer. About 10% to 15% of actinic keratoses eventually change into squamous cell cancers of the skin.
  • Long-term changes in the skin’s collagen (a structural protein) — These changes include photoaging (premature aging of the skin because of sun exposure) and actinic purpura (bleeding from fragile blood vessels beneath the skin surface). In photoaging, the skin develops wrinkles and fine lines because of changes in the collagen of a deep layer of the skin called the dermis. In actinic purpura, UV radiation damages the structural collagen that supports the walls of the skin’s tiny blood vessels. Particularly in older people, this collagen damage makes blood vessels more fragile and more likely to rupture following a slight impact.

Over a lifetime, repeated episodes of sunburn and unprotected sun exposure can increase a person’s risk of malignant melanoma and other forms of skin cancer. As a rule, if you have fair skin and light eyes, you are at greater risk of sun-related skin damage and skin cancers. This is because your skin contains less of a dark pigment called melanin, which helps to protect the skin from the effects of UV radiation.

If you would like to discuss options for sun protection or if you have a suspicious mole you would like checked out, or if you simply would like one of our doctors to do a thorough skin check for you – please get in touch. Our comprehensive full body skin checks are inexpensive and could save your life – invest in the cancer-free future of your skin.