Have fun in the sun while protecting your skin from aging and skin cancer.
Spring is here! In Vermont, we don’t let the snow hold us back. Still, after months of ice and overcast weather, it’s tempting to trade wintery conditions for warmth and sunshine. Discover how to protect your skin from aging, wrinkles, DNA damage, and skin cancer while enjoying your tropical escape.
Have you every had a sunburn that caused your skin to peel?
A peeling sunburn occurs when UV radiation has damaged DNA in skin cells beyond repair, causing the cells to die. It is no secret that radiation is dangerous: we test homes for radon and monitor nuclear power plants for this reason. The sun also emits powerful radiation. Sunlight contains both visible and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. There are different kinds of UV light: UVA and UVB. UVA penetrates more deeply into the skin, causing premature skin aging, tans, and skin cancer. UVB radiation has more energy and causes sunburns and skin cancer.
Exposure to UV light damages the DNA in our skin cells. The sun’s radiation also weakens a cell’s ability to fix the damage. When DNA has been damaged beyond repair, the skin cells automatically die. The body sheds these dead skin cells in a process you might recognize as a painful, oozing, peeling sunburn.
On average, FIVE peeling sunburns DOUBLES the risk for developing skin cancer1
This sun damage adds up over a lifetime and eventually leads to skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and malignant melanoma. About 90% of melanomas are caused by radiation from the sun.2 Did you know that Vermont has the 2nd highest rate of melanoma in the country?
The Base Tan is a Myth: There is No Healthy Tan
A suntan is only produced in response to DNA damage. The skin tans when enough DNA damage has occurred to trigger an emergency defense response. A tan is a warning sign that the skin is trying to protect itself from too much DNA damage and from increased risk of skin cancer. Research has found that having a tan does not protect against sunburn.
More people develop skin cancer after indoor tanning than lung cancer from smoking3
Tanning beds emit up to 10 times more UVA light than the sun.4 Tanning beds use drastically increases the risk of developing skin cancer. In fact, using a tanning bed before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by up to 80%.4 It’s easy to associate skin cancer with aging, but melanoma is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in ages 15-295 and the most common cancer in young adults aged 20-30. It is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25-30. Vermont led the nation in 2012 as the second state to ban tanning bed use for minors. Some countries have banned indoor tanning beds altogether.
Protect Against the Sun’s Harmful Rays
Avoiding direct sunlight during peak UV hours from 10am-2pm, seeking shade, and using sun-protective clothing are primary defenses. A sunscreen that is broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher, and water-resistant can provide effective protection from the sun. All sunscreens need to be reapplied approximately every 2 hours, immediately after sweating or swimming, and according to the directions on the bottle.
Don’t forget to protect eyes and lips!
UV radiation can damage the eyes, causing cataracts and skin cancers. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends wearing sunglasses with 100% UVA/UVB protection. Radiation from the sun can also cause lip cancer, so it is essential to use lip balm or lipstick with at least SPF 15 and reapply every 2 hours.
For more information, visit:
- The American Academy of Dermatology, aad.org
- The American Cancer Society, cancer.org
- Skin Cancer Foundation, skincancer.org
- The American Academy of Ophthalmology, aao.org
Melanie Bui, MD, PhD, is a dermatologist at the University of Vermont Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. Cari E. Carpenter, ’22, is a medical student at the Larner College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.
- Pfahlberg A, Kölmel KF, Gefeller O. Timing of excessive ultraviolet radiation and melanoma: epidemiology does not support the existence of a critical period of high susceptibility to solar ultraviolet radiation-induced melanoma. Br J Dermatol 2001; 144:3:471-475.
- Parkin DM, Mesher D, Sasieni P. Cancers attributable to solar (ultraviolet) radiation exposure in the UK in 2010. Br J Cancer 2011; 105:S66-S69.
- Wehner MR, Chren MM, Nameth D, et al. International prevalence of indoor tanning: a systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Dermatol 2014; 150(4):390-400. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2013.6896.
- The International Agency for Research on Cancer Working Group. The association of use of sunbeds with cutaneous malignant melanoma and other skin cancers: a systematic review. Int J Canc 2006; 120:1116-1122.
- Herzog C, Pappo A, Bondy M, Bleyer A, Kirkwood J, Ries LAG (eds): Malignant Melanoma. Cancer Epidemiology in Older Adolescents and Young Adults 15 to 29 Years of Age, Including SEER Incidence and Survival: 1975-2000. National Cancer Institute, NIH Pub. No. 06-5767. Bethesda, MD 2006.