With summer in full swing and an unforgiving sun on these hot days, it’s time to whip out the sunscreen and protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation.
Monday’s New York Times article, “With Summer Sun Comes Signs of Danger,” discusses the importance of sunscreen in preventing skin cancer. According to author Jane Brody, a research team reported that a “quarter or more of cells in the skin of middle-aged people have suffered sun-induced DNA damage.”
According to the American Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the U.S.
There has been a lot of concern over the years about sunscreen, like whether or not it is truly safe to use, or if it even works. Jennifer Malcolm, primary care sports medicine specialist at Lafene Health Center, said that sunscreen is a positive tool in protecting your skin and not a bad thing at all.
“There is no evidence sunscreen is bad,” Malcolm said. “Depending on sunscreen type if you can have organic or non-organic ingredients in it, but neither type has been proven bad for you.”
So why is sunscreen still a controversial topic for some people? Well, the current debate isn’t about what sunscreen is doing, but what it is preventing users from doing.
“(The) biggest concern about sunscreen is about vitamins; we rely on sun exposure and skin absorption to provide vitamin D,” Malcolm said. “Research is searching to find out if sunscreen is preventing us from absorbing the specific needed value of vitamin D, (but) no long-time research proves that sunscreen prevents vitamin D from staying at our normative values.”
Within the last few years, research on vitamin D has expanded allowing researchers to further determine whether or not it sunscreen reduces skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D from the sun. One thing research does determine, however, is that that sunscreen prevents skin cancer.
“(It’s used) in order to prevent skin cancer,” Malcolm said. “The strongest evidence (states) that sunscreen can prevent actinic keratosis and squamous cell cancer. Squamous cell cancer is one of the different types of skin cancer, and actinic keratosis is a precancerous lesion.”
Prevention is the best method to in protecting skin.
“You can’t buy a cream to get rid of mutations, so the best approach is to prevent the damage,” Douglas Brash, biophysicist at Yale University School of Medicine, said in Monday’s New York Times article.
One known danger of sunscreen is the possibility of being allergic to ingredients in the lotion.
“One adverse reaction that we talk to patients about is an allergic reaction or skin irritation,” Malcolm said. “Otherwise it has an excellent safety profile.”
Even within the community of sunscreen users there are debates about sunscreen’s health benefits, such as which brand is best or which Sun Protection Factor (SPF) works the best.
“SPF is not an ingredient, it is a rating factor for how much protection is in the canister of sunscreen product,” Malcolm said. “The (Food and Drug Administration) gives the SPF and has requirements to sustain SPF values.”
One common debate is about whether or not lathering on SPF 100 protects wearers from the sun better than wearing SPF 30. The FDA, however, has not concluded whether or not a higher SPF sunscreens offer better protection.
“(Research) recommends wearing 30 or above, but even wearing SPF 15 or higher still decreases the risk of skin cancer,” Malcolm said. “Apply your initial (layer) approximately 30 minutes prior to entering the sun (and) reapply every two hours.”
Kelsey Case, junior in accounting, said she believes the media when they tell her higher SPF is better or safer to wear in the sun.
“I think (higher) is probably better for you,” Case said. “I only wear it if I’m going to be outside for a long time I do, but for a little no. I think I should definitely wear it more.”
Tom Jagosz, instructor in international programs, said he very rarely uses sunscreen.
“I almost never wear it. Anytime i go out to the lake or the beach I do, otherwise I’m not outside or I wear a hat, sunglasses and a shirt,” Jagosz said. “I really only need it for my shoulders.”
While the ACS does suggest wearing a hat and shirt to help protect your skin in the sun, it recommends not skipping a step in the “Slip, Slop, Slap” plan:
- Slip on a shirt
- Slop on sunscreen
- Slap on a hat
As the summer sun shines down on Manhattan, don’t forget to slop on that sunscreen to protect your skin.