MetroIPC’s In-Depth Look at Sun Protection

sun-spf-30By Kelly Thelin, MetroIPC PA-C

Have a minor sunburn? Book an Appointment

We have previously discussed the importance of sun protection during the summer months. Now let’s delve deeper into the elements of sun exposure and what you need to know.

Let’s begin with UV light. Ultraviolet rays, which come from the sun and tanning beds, are a type of radiation. Any form of radiation can alter our genes, which over time can produce abnormal growths called cancer. We classify the type of UV rays that reach the surface of our skin as UVA and UVB. In short, UVA is the type that primarily contributes to aging and cancer, while UVB is considered the type to pigment or burn our skin, which can also contribute to cancer.

There are three major types of skin cancer to which UV light is a major risk factor. Basal cell carcinoma is most common, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. These two are typically benign and treatable with medications or surgery and tend to occur on sun exposed areas such as the forehead, nose, and neck. These very rarely turn malignant, but can often recur. Melanoma is the third major type and while it less common than basal and squamous cell cancers, it is by far the most invasive, malignant, and deadly of all skin cancers.

It is extremely important to note, however, that SPF only refers to protection against UVB rays. There is far less consistency and transparency about each brand’s efficacy against UVA rays, though new label regulations will work to address this issue. If it says “broad spectrum,” then it is claiming to protect against both. Zinc oxide, one of the barrier protectors, does effectively block UVA rays.  If in doubt, avoid chemical sunscreens and stick to those that contain only zinc oxide or titanium dioxide, which have a long history of safety and efficacy.

Our skin performs important functions with those UV rays, not the least of which is producing Vitamin D! You may hear people, even clinicians, claiming that frequent use of sunscreen will result in Vitamin D deficiency, but recent data is showing that sunscreen may not inhibit Vitamin D production as much as we once thought. Sufficient Vitamin D can be produced with a cumulative 20-30 minutes per week of sun to easily exposed areas like the face, arms, and hands; this likely remains true with typical sunscreen application. In the Mid-Atlantic region, this is easy to do in the summer months, though more difficult to achieve in the winter.

If you are concerned for Vitamin D deficiency or have a minor sunburn, ask your MetroIPC provider to check your levels or consider taking a daily supplement.