Too much sun?

Posted: July 13, 2012

With new federal guidelines out this summer, it’s important for you to increase your sunscreen IQ

Doctors note the increase in skin cancer, especially in young women

“Last week we had a 17 year old die last week from melanoma. That was one of the saddest things I’ve ever been through,” said Malinee Saxena, a dermatologist at Dermatology Consultants, located in Eagan, Minnesota.

It has been estimated that nearly half of all Americans who live to the age of 65 will develop skin cancer at least once during their lifetime.

Recent clinical studies conducted show that there is a dramatic rise in melanoma, a form of skin cancer, in young adults, especially women under the age of 40. New findings additionally show that a reason this may be such a large problem is because people don’t properly use and apply sunscreen enough. Because of this, the FDA has proposed and is putting into effect new sunscreen guidelines.

“I have noticed that there is a rise in melanoma,” said Saxena. “On average I see one new case every two weeks. Last week, I saw four.”

Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. Each year there are more new cases of skin cancer than the combination of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancers.

The three most common types of skin cancer are basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type, accounting for 75 percent of skin cancer reports. It affects basal cells which are cells within the skin that produce new skin cells as old ones die off. This type of skin cancer occurs most often on areas of the skin that are the most exposed to the sun from exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV rays) and rarely spreads to other parts of the body.

Another common type of skin cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells that occurs in the squamous cells, which compose most of the skin’s upper layers. It rarely causes further problems when identified and treated early, but if left untreated squamous cell carcinoma can cause serious problems, growing large or spreading to other parts of the body. Most squamous cell carcinomas result from extensive exposure to UV radiation from the sun or tanning beds.

The last major form of skin cancer is melanoma which is the leading cause of death from skin disease. It forms in the cells that produce melanin. Melanin is the pigment that gives your skin its color. The exact cause of melanoma is unknown. Genetics are thought to play a role, but its development is also attributed to UV exposure.

More than 2 million cases of basal and squamous cell skin cancer are found in this country each year. Melanoma is estimated to account for more than 75,000 cases of skin cancer in 2012.

A recent study by the Mayo Clinic on patients between the ages of 18 and 39 shows that between the years 1970 and 2009 the reports of melanoma in multiplied by eight in women and by four in men. Researchers believe this occurs because women are much more likely to tan outside or indoors using tanning beds.

To prevent the further growth of skin cancer the FDA has released new guidelines for sunscreen that are required to be put in effect this summer. What many people don’t know is up until now sunscreen typically worked only to protect you against UVB, rays which cause sunburns.

Now sunscreens must also protect against UVA rays which contribute to skin cancer and skin aging. When buying sunscreens, look for a label that says “Broad Spectrum” because these products will protect better against both UVA and UVB radiation.

The FDA also recommends picking a sunscreen with an SPF value of at least 15 or higher, but many dermatologists encourage you to choose sunscreen with an even higher SPF value. SPF stands for sun protection factor and is the measurement of how effectively a sunscreen protects against sunburn.

“When using sunscreen use one with a SPF value of at least 30 and protects against UVA and UVB rays. You also have to make sure you reapply. Laying on the beach and ‘baking’ is not recommended,” said Saxena.

Besides purchasing the most protective sunscreen, it is important to use it properly. Most people do not apply enough, using only 25 percent to 50 percent of the recommended amount. Sunscreen should be applied to all areas exposed to the sun so that it forms a film when you initially put it on.

It takes 20 to 30 minutes for sunscreen to be absorbed by the skin, so it should be put on at least a half an hour before going out in the sun. Sunscreen should also be the last layer applied on your face since some sunscreens dissolve in the presence of water like in water-based foundations and moisturizers. Reapply sunscreen every two hours and reapply after swimming or sweating a lot.

“Melanoma can happen to young people,” said Saxena, “So it is so important that they enjoy activities outdoors, while protecting themselves from sun damage.”

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