|Sun Protection is More Important Than Ever as Women Outpace Men in New Melanoma Cases
April 13, 2010
Washington, D.C., April 13, 2010 - The incidence of melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer—has increased markedly across the population over the last two decades, with about 120,000 new cases each year. And a recently published study from the National Cancer Institute Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results data shows the worrisome trend of increasing melanoma incidence in white women aged 15-39. More troubling is that in young women the increasing incidence was noted for thicker and advanced-stage melanomas.
"While men are still at a higher risk of developing skin cancer, women are quickly catching up. Studies suggest that years of tanning, both in the sun and in tanning beds seem to be taking their toll on women," said Suraj Venna, MD, director of the Melanoma Center at the Washington Cancer Institute at Washington Hospital Center. "Although the risk is lower for women of color, they still need to avoid sun damage. There is no such thing as a safe tan, as any amount of ultraviolet is damaging." The danger is even greater for women who smoke and tan because the carcinogens in cigarettes can impair DNA repair mechanisms that help counteract sun damage.
With so many sun care products available on the market, Dr. Venna helps unravel the mysteries of sun protection with what to buy and how it works:
• There are two types of sunscreen: physical and chemical.
o Physical sunscreens contain either the ingredients zinc or titanium. They essentially provide an “opaque umbrella” over the DNA of the skin’s cells. Physical sunscreens reflect and scatter harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays away from the skin, effectively blocking the sun. Physical sunscreens have several benefits: they are less likely to irritate the skin, tend to be more waterproof, are effective immediately upon application and are easier to ensure complete coverage when applied because they are neither clear nor absorbed. UV rated protective clothing also provides an effective physical barrier from the sun.
o Chemical sunscreens create a chemical reaction that allows the skin to absorb UV rays, preventing them from entering the cell’s DNA. Although many people prefer chemical sunscreens because they are not visible on the skin, they must be applied about a half-hour before the skin is exposed to the sun, so this protective chemical reaction can take place.
• Spray-on sunscreens, wildly popular, convenient and easier to apply, can be more difficult to ensure adequate coverage, and tend to have a higher concentration of water, causing them to lose their effectiveness more quickly.
• Sunscreens can be labeled as water-resistant or waterproof. Go for waterproof, especially if you plan on sweating or swimming. And be sure to use a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen.
• Although there are sunscreens with SPF as high as 100, SPF 50 is adequate, as it blocks more than 98 percent of the sun’s harmful rays. "We believe that higher SPF sunscreens create a false sense of security, and people don’t reapply often enough," said Dr. Venna.
• The key to the effective use of sunscreen is to apply it abundantly and frequently. “Sunscreen, regardless of the SPF value, must be reapplied every two to three hours—more frequently when swimming. And use a lot,” added Dr. Venna. Ample, complete coverage is the best way to ensure adequate protection.
• Don’t forget the eyes. "In the back of the eye, the retina has pigment producing cells that can develop moles and ocular melanoma. Think of your eyes in the same way as your skin, and use sunglasses that block all UV rays."
• For children, Dr. Venna recommends physical sunscreens, and favors a combination of rated Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) clothing, hats, sunscreen and sunglasses. "A child should never, ever get sunburn," he emphasized.
One myth to dispel is that it is too late for women who spent their early years as sun-worshippers. Not necessarily, said Dr. Venna. "Skin cancer is caused by the accumulation of UV damage, so anyone can lessen their chances of getting it by protecting themselves from the sun now." And for those who want to be darker, "sunless tanning products present a safer alternative. They contain DHA, a form of sugar that mixes with the top layer of the skin, causing a reaction that converts the sugar into a bronze-like color. Be forewarned, though, this should not be mistaken as a ‘pre-tan’. The bronzing effect of sunless tanners will not protect you from the sun."
Finally, if skin cancer concerns don’t change our sun-seeking behavior, Dr. Venna hopes its cosmetic impact will. Sun tanning leads to redness, wrinkles, and ultimately a sallow, leathery skin texture. "Even though having a tan may look healthier now, in the long run it definitely isn’t."
Lynn Hopkins Cantwell
So Young Pak