The sun provides, warmth, light and life. It can also deliver blistering sunburns, premature ageing and SKIN CANCER.
The sun emits three kinds of UV light: long wavelength UVA, medium wavelength UVB, and short wavelength UVC. The shorter the wavelength, the stronger the light. UVC radiation is absorbed by our atmosphere and never reaches the earth. On the other hand, the longer UVA and UVB rays do penetrate the atmosphere, and between the two they cause plenty of damage to our skin. As the ozone layer gets thinner, penetration by all wavelengths of UV light increases, resulting in earlier and more aggressive skin damage.
UVA = AGEING RAYS
UVA rays are commonly referred to as the “ageing” rays. They are the long rays that penetrate deep into the dermis, causing tremendous damage over time. They have the ability to destroy our collagen and elastin, causing wrinkles and sagging. UVA rays also stimulates our skin to produce more melanin, resulting in 'brown spots' and pigmentation on the face, hands, and chest—a true hallmark of aged skin. UVA damage compromises your body’s ability to repair itself and most problematically can potentially mutate your DNA, eventually leading to skin cancer in particular Melanoma.
UVB = BURNING RAYS
UVB rays are commonly referred to as the "burning" rays. They are the shorter rays that cause painful and visible sunburns. Additionally, UVB rays can also cause skin cancer. The cancers associated with UVB radiation are most commonly the nonmelanoma types, Basal Cell and Squamous Cell Carcinomas. These are the skin cancers that originate in the epidermis, the top layer of your skin, where the shorter UVB rays strike and cause damage. Because the burning effects of UVB radiation are so immediate and visible, not to mention painful, sunscreen technologies that protect us from UVB rays have advanced significantly since the late 1970s and are quite effective at blocking these rays.
Melanoma is the most serious form of cancer that develops in the skin’s pigment cells (melanocytes). Melanocytes produce melanin to help protect the skin from ultraviolet (UV) radiation. When melanocyte cells combine together in the skin during childhood or adolescence they form a mole.
Most moles are quite safe, however sometimes the melanocytes in a mole begin to grow and divide in an uncontrolled way. If they start to grow in an unregulated way, either expanding outwards or down into the lower layers of the skin, they can become a melanoma.
The main preventable cause of melanoma is overexposure to UV radiation. There are many risk factors that increase the chances of melanoma, including people with fair skin, a high mole count, family history and a pattern of sunburns throughout life, especially during childhood.
Although melanoma is associated with ageing and sun exposure, it can develop at any time on anyone. Microscopically, melanoma starts in the lowest layers of the epidermis, expanding downward into the dermis, where it can metastasise (spread) through lymphatic and blood vessels, gaining access to the rest of the body and potentially becoming fatal. Early detection via a complete skin exam performed at least annually by a dermatologist is your best defence.
The ABCDEs of Melanoma
These are important guidelines to keep in mind when checking your skin for melanoma.
- A: Asymmetry - the spot isn’t symmetrical and may have an odd shape
- B: Border - look for a border that isn’t sharp or defined
- C: Colour - the colour is not uniform and may have different shades of red, brown, or black
- D: Diameter - the spot is the size of a pencil eraser or larger
- E: Evolution - the spot changes over time
BASAL CELL CARCINOMA
Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) is by far the most common of all skin cancers and accounts for around 70% of non-melanoma skin cancers. Developing at the lowest level of the epidermis, this skin cancer often appears as a pink, shiny bump on the top of the head, nose, face, neck, or chest. It doesn’t hurt but may bleed and crust over. It is often mistaken for a pimple that doesn’t heal because it just sits there and slowly grows. If you have something that resembles a pimple on your face for more than three months, it could be a skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma seldom spreads to other parts of the body, but it can be disfiguring if not treated early.
There are many factors that lead to the development of most skin cancers however sun exposure is by far the most important factor in the development of basal cell carcinomas. This excessive sun exposure usually occurred many years before the BCC develops. Those who are at a greater risk of developing a basal cell carcinoma include people with fair skin and people with a strong family history of BCC.
SQUAMOUS CELL CARCINOMA
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) also develops in the uppermost layers of the epidermis and accounts for about 30% of non-melanoma skin cancers. SCC generally grows quickly over weeks or months. These red scaling patches that do not heal usually appear on areas of the body that have the most exposure to the sun such as your face, backs of hands, rims of ears, and lips. Squamous cell carcinoma is easy to treat in its early stages but if ignored can spread to other organs and even be fatal. More than 100,000 cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed in Australia each year.
WHAT IS SPF?
The term SPF or "Sun Protection Factor" is a measure of UV protection provided by your sunscreen. Two types of ultraviolet radiation, UVA and UVB, damage the skin, cause prematurely ageing, and increase your risk of skin cancer.
UVB is the chief culprit behind sunburn, while UVA rays, which penetrate the skin more deeply, are associated with wrinkling, leathering, sagging, and other light-induced effects of ageing called photo ageing. They also exacerbate the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays, and are increasingly being seen as a cause of skin cancer on their own. Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect against UVA and UVB.
Here's how it works:
If you are light skinned and tend to burn in ten minutes on a summer day, applying a sunscreen with an SPF 15 will allow you to be in the sun fifteen times ten minutes (that’s 150 minutes, or two and a half hours) before burning.
Another way to look at it is in terms of percentages: SPF 15 filters out approximately 93 percent of all incoming UVB rays. SPF 30 keeps out 97 percent and SPF 50 keeps out 98 percent. It is important to realise is that no sunscreen can block ALL UV rays.
However......no sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to stay effective longer than two hours without reapplication. Any "reddening" of the skin is a reaction to UVB rays alone and tells you little about what UVA damage you may be getting.
There is a phenomenon called the “Paradox of Sunscreen” that pertains specifically to UVA light. In spite of the widespread use of sunscreen over the past thirty plus years, visible skin ageing changes and skin cancer rates have continued to rise. If sunscreens were effectively protecting us, this would not be the case. The reason this paradox exists is the false sense of security people often get from using sunscreen. A high SPF sunscreen might only prevent a UVB-induced sunburn, but a sunburn is nature’s way of letting you know that you have had too much sun for your skin type and a signal that it is time to seek the shade or protect your completely and go indoors.
Avobenzone, zinc oxide, or Mexoryl are essential broad-spectrum sunscreens that block both UVA and UVB rays. Many sunscreens today are also fortified with active cosmetic ingredients, from vitamin C and E to broccoli and green tea, that may help prevent free radical damage. These oxidants may very well make a difference, so we encourage people to select sunscreens containing antioxidants. Make sure you are investing in a sunscreen that is going to provide you with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection.
Not all sunscreens are created equal. We encourage you to check the active ingredients label on the back of the box or tube to be certain you are getting safe and effective protection. Two kinds of sunscreen blockers protect against UV rays: physical and chemical. Physical blockers include ingredients such as zinc oxide, which you may recognise as the white cream lifeguards often wear on their noses. Physical blockers do exactly what their name implies; they physically block or reflect the ultraviolet rays back into the environment, thereby protecting the skin’s surface. Zinc oxide is an effective ingredient that doesn’t tend to irritate skin. Today, cosmetically elegant forms of zinc oxide exist that appear transparent. Zinc is a great option for people with rosacea because it reduces the appearance of redness. Chemical blockers include ingredients such as Avobenzone or Mexoryl. These ingredients, in addition to zinc oxide, have been clinically proven to offer the best protection available today against damaging UVA rays.
There are advances in skincare technology today that have the ability to improve the quality of your skin as they protect your skin. Although we love makeup with sunscreen, they generally don’t sufficiently protect our skin. We always recommend to use your broad-spectrum sunscreen first and then apply your makeup with SPF for added protection.