The Sunblock Conundrum

“Wear sunblock! Cover up! Stay out of the sun!”

We’ve been preaching this for years – and with good reason: Basal and Squamous Cell Skin Cancers are most often found in areas exposed to the sun, such as the head, neck, and arms.

Dr. Rex Amonette, former president of the American Academy of Dermatology and current clinical professor of dermatology at the University of Tennessee, says, “Generally, basal cell carcinomas are the least dangerous of skin cancers. They rarely metastasize (spread) or become life-threatening. Often, they barely appear to grow or change for years, and people may leave them alone until they finally become too unattractive to bear or begin bleeding. The problem is that even when they appear small, they may be invading deeper into the skin. Ultimately, the tumor starts altering facial or bodily structure — contracting the lip into a snarl, say, or eroding part of the nose. The longer you wait, the more damage and disfigurement the tumor can do and the more difficult it is to treat without a poor cosmetic outcome. The key is to find it as early as possible, when it is very small above and below the surface.”

Skin cancer is by far the most common type of cancer. If you have skin cancer, it is important to know which type you have because it affects your treatment options and your outlook (prognosis). If you aren’t sure which type of skin cancer you have, ask your doctor so you can get the right information. From Basal Cell to Squamous Cell to Melanoma – it is critical that you have that “Ugly Duckling” lesion checked. It is also critical, of course, that we protect our skin from the sun.

But wait! A May 1st 2017 article from Science Daily says, “Results from a clinical review published in The Journal of the American Osteopathic Association find nearly 1 billion people worldwide may have deficient or insufficient levels of vitamin D due to chronic disease and inadequate sun exposure related to sunscreen use.” So, what to do?

The answer is still “Wear sunscreen!” But be conscious of Vitamin D absorption. Considered a hormone rather than a vitamin, vitamin D is produced when skin is exposed to sunlight. Vitamin D receptors are found in virtually every cell in the human body. As a result, it plays a wide role in the body’s functions, including cell growth modulation, neuromuscular and immune function, and inflammation reduction.

There are 3 groups of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC. Since the ozone level affects UVC radiation, there is small chance of those rays reaching our earth’s surface. UVB rays are shorter and do reach us and can cause burning of the upper layer of the skin and/or tanning, and ultimately lead to cancer. The amount of UVB is largely dependent on the season and at the same time, UVB rays are necessary for our body to produce vitamin D, which helps strengthen bones and safeguards against diseases such as Rickets.

Of the 3 types of radiation, UVA is the longest and can penetrate most types of clothing. A t-shirt will provide about 5 percent protection while 95 percent of the rays still reach the skin. UVA also penetrates clouds and glass (including most tinted car windows), and reflects off your dashboard, windows, snow, water, and sand.

You don’t have to lay out on the beach to get your dose of Vitamin D. Take a short walk, read on the back steps, spend 5-30 minutes midday (after the SPF you applied in the morning is likely long gone!) a couple of times a week sans SPF will boost your Vitamin D and maintain a healthy level.

Remember, SPF 15 or greater decreases Vitamin D3 production by 99 percent and according to New York University Langone Medical Center, certain fabrics make it more difficult for UV rays to penetrate. Tightly woven fabric, polyester (rather than cotton), darker-colored clothing and dry clothing all block UV rays more effectively than loosely woven, cotton-based, light-colored, wet clothing. A study conducted at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia concluded that the construction of the fabric and the tightness, or overall fit, of the shirt had the most effect on the amount of Vitamin D-producing UV rays that are absorbed. So, wear looser, lighter material for absorption.

The bottom line is Be Smart with your exposure. A number of factors can undermine Vitamin D – pollution, latitude, color of your skin, weight, age and so on. Have your levels checked periodically and if needed, supplement your intake per your physician’s instructions. You can do both – protect your health by getting the Vitamin D you need and at the same time be responsible by protecting yourself from the most common cancer in the United States.

 Written By: Beryl Reker, PMA

Jennifer Flores