With Fall here and winter approaching your first impulse might be to ease up on your sun protection. Don’t. Sun safety and protecting your skin against UV damage is a year-round commitment. According to Bruce E. Katz, the director of JUVA Skin & Laser Center in New York, “The sun’s harmful rays are just as strong and damaging despite what your thermometer says— particularly the UVA rays which are responsible for aging skin. UVA radiation reaches deeper into the skin and contributes to wrinkles and skin cancer risk. Nearly all (95 percent) of the UV radiation that we are exposed to is UVA.”
What is UVA?
To break it down, Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the electromagnetic (light) spectrum that reaches the earth from the sun. UV radiation has wavelengths shorter than visible light which make it invisible to the naked eye. Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave of the two and the UV ray that causes lasting skin damage, skin aging, and can cause skin cancer. The shorter UV wave is Ultraviolet B (UVB). Ultraviolet B rays are what cause sunburns, skin damage, and possible skin cancer. By damaging the skin’s cellular DNA, excessive UV radiation produces genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancer. Both the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization have identified UV as a proven human carcinogen.
UVA and Skin Cancer
The rise in the incidence of skin cancers over the past decades is strongly related to increasingly popular outdoor activities and recreational exposure. According to Alex A. Khadavi, the founder of Advanced Skin & Hair, “Reflection of radiation from snow requires aggressive sunscreen protection, maybe even more than summertime as individuals participate in snow activities like skiing and snowboarding. Almost 80 percent of UV radiation is reflected from snow while only 25 percent from sand.”
About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and about 86 percent of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. Overexposure to sunlight is widely accepted as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system. Because UV damage is mostly avoidable, experts believe that four out of five cases of skin cancer are preventable. Because sun damage builds up over time sunscreen should be applied liberally and evenly to any exposed skin. Sunscreen should be used everyday, even if it’s cloudy and sun does not appear to be present or in the forecast. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation (SCF), up to 80 percent of the sun’s UV rays can pass through clouds. The SCF also reports that this is the reason people often end up with serious sunburns on overcast days if they’ve spent time outside with no sun protection.
Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB radiation. Other types of sunscreen may help prevent sunburn, but they will not protect against skin cancer. Repeated sun exposure is the leading cause of premature skin aging. This is known as photoaging. It occurs because the sun’s ultraviolet rays alter the normal structure of the skin, causing the appearance of wrinkles and brown spots.
For more information on Vitamin D and what types of sunscreens to use, click here.