Sun protection 'not fad'
Friday, 27 July 2012 13:41 GMT
London - Arabstoday
The warnings about skin cancer from too much sun don’t seem to be getting through to people who have special vulnerability to sun exposure, particularly light-skinned people. What’s compounding the problem is that the USFDA (Food and Drug Administration) has not yet decided on the terminology for branding sunscreen products, thus making consumers wait for the final verdict on what kind of products they should use. The changes aimed to finally distinguish which brands protected against both sunburn-causing ultraviolet B rays and the deeper-penetrating ultraviolet A linked to skin cancer and premature aging. They also couldn’t claim to be waterproof or sweatproof, only water — or sweat-resistant — so that people know sunscreens have to be reapplied frequently.So the FDA said it would give major sunscreen makers another six months to make the changes — until December. Smaller companies will have even longer, until December 2013.
While about six per cent of adults of all ages said they had done indoor tanning in the previous year, the rates were much, much higher among young white women: about 32 per cent among those ages 18 to 21.
Also, women in their 20s said they tanned indoors more than 20 times in the previous year, on average.
A similar survey in 2005 found about 27 per cent of young women said they had done indoor tanning.
Several experts said there is no longer significant scientific debate that indoor tanning causes cancer. In 2009, tanning devices were classified as carcinogenic by the World Health Organisation, which analysed 20 studies and found the risk of melanoma rose 75 per cent in people who started indoor tanning before age 30.
“It’s not a question of whether tanning beds cause cancer anymore. We’ve been able to prove that,” says Dr Jerry Brewer, a Mayo Clinic dermatologist and researcher.
But Joseph Levy, executive director of International Smart Tan Network, representing the tanning salon industry, says the WHO finding was based on old and flawed studies. He also noted the risk of melanoma is very small.
“Saying categorically that [ultraviolet light] exposure is harmful and should be avoided is like saying that water causes drowning, and therefore we should avoid water. It’s a totally misleading oversimplification,” Levy said in an email.
Indoor tanning took off about 30 years ago.
Melanoma has also been increasing for at least three decades. Among whites, who have the highest incidence of the disease, the rate climbed from around 10 cases per 100,000 people in 1975 to more than 24 per 100,000 in 2009.
About 76,000 melanoma cases will be diagnosed in US adults this year, and about 9,200 people are expected to die of the disease, according to the cancer society. The rates for other skin cancers have been rising as well.“It’s the sunburn you got when you were 18 that leads to the cancer you get when you’re 40. That sunburn will come back to haunt you,” warns Dr Zoe Draelos, vice-president of the American Academy of Dermatology.
So how much sun protection do you really need? And is it worth choosing a more expensive product?
Dr Mervyn Patterson, a cosmetic dermatologist based at the Woodford Medical Clinic in Essex, UK, offers his verdict on popular sunscreens.
What does SPG mean?
The sun’s radiation reaches Earth in the form of UVA and UVB rays. It’s the UVB rays that cause sunburn, and research shows this can lead to some forms of skin cancer.
A product’s Sun Protection Factor (SPF) is a measure of how much longer it means you can stay in the sun without burning compared to normal. For instance, if you normally burn in ten minutes without protection, then using a sunscreen with SPF 30 means you could theoretically spend 300 minutes in the sun without burning.
Which SPF should I choose?
Dr Hillary Allan, dermatologist, says anything less than a factor 20 is a waste of time: “I’d recommend wearing 30 to 50.”
If you’re fair, don’t go below factor 30 if you’re in hot sun, says Dr Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at the Princess Grace Hospital, London.
“If you use factor 30, even if you apply it badly — which most people do — you’re still quite well protected for two to three hours. If you use anything lower than that and you miss a bit, you’ll burn.”
The key is to know your own skin, says Professor Julia Newton-Bishop, dermatologist at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds. “Work out what you have to do to prevent burning — and by that I mean going pink, not blistering.”
And if you’re trying to get a tan? “Don’t sunbathe — use an artificial tan. Who wants a red, shiny nose anyway?”
What are the star ratings?
Star ratings refer to protection from the sun’s UVA rays. The damage these rays do is not so easily visible as they do not cause the skin to go red. Instead they penetrate deep below the skin’s surface and can cause more serious, malignant melanoma and premature ageing.
Some — but not all — creams state the amount of UVA protection they offer, using a star rating from one to five.
“Always choose suncreams with a five-star rating,” says Dr Allan.
How much to use?
Use a generous fingerful on each area — one on the face, one on the neck, and so on. You would use about 35ml to cover a whole adult body, meaning two people would get through a standard 200ml bottle in about two days.
“Do your first application 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, so it’s absorbed by the top layer of the skin,” says Professor Newton-Bishop. Always reapply after swimming, but wait until the skin is dry or it won’t be effective.
Are sprays superior to creams?
Experts agree the most important thing is to find a suncream you like to use. “Sprays are easy to apply, which means people are more likely to apply them thoroughly and repeatedly,” says Dr Allan. However, others warn that people do not always apply sprays thickly enough.
Sunscreens work in two ways. They usually contain chemical ingredients, such as avobenzone, which absorb the sun’s rays, or ‘physical’ or natural compounds, such as zinc oxide, which reflect the rays off the skin.
Water resistant suncreams use a specific balance of chemical and physical ingredients that stick to your skin in a different way when you’re in water, says Dr Bataille. But she warns ‘they are not foolproof’, so reapply after swimming.
If you suffer with eczema and allergies, she advises ‘physical’ creams (choose products containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide) “as these sit on the skin and seem to cause less irritation”.
Is it worth spending more?
“More expensive suncreams may smell nice and feel less greasy, but in terms of efficacy, deep down all these products are very good and you’re not putting your health at risk by choosing cheaper products,” says Dr Bataille.
What about Vitamin D?
Dark-skinned people are more likely to have depleted vitamin D levels, says Professor Newton-Bishop. High levels of the pigment melanin are thought to block the body’s cells from synthesising sunlight into vitamin D. “So what we don’t want is olive and dark-skinned people religiously wearing a high SPF because they are sacrificing their vitamin D. Don’t let yourself burn, but don’t be paranoid.”
Experts advise the fair-skinned to get out in the sun in the heat of the day for around 20 minutes three times a week without suncream. However, if you burn quicker than this, reduce the time.
Professor Newton-Bishop takes a different approach: “I find it easier to cover up in the sun, wear factor 30 or above, and boost vitamin D with cod liver supplements.”