August 4, 2013

Is Your Sunscreen Increasing Your Risk of Skin Cancer? ~ Michael Cai

Summer’s here! Have you been applying your sunscreen regularly? If you have, you may actually be increasing your risk of skin damage and cancer. Here’s why.

The two types of UV rays:

1. Ultraviolet A (Wavelength 315-400 nanometers). Previously considered less harmful, this UV ray can cause skin cancer via indirect DNA damage. It penetrates deeply into the skin but is not responsible for sunburn.

Conventional sunscreens do not protect against this form of radiation: only broad spectrum sunscreens offer protection against UVA rays.

2. Ultraviolet B (Wavelength 280-315 nanometers). It can cause direct DNA damage leading to melanoma.

Conventional sunscreens protect against this form of radiation.

The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of a sunscreen is a lab-measured value; for example, if you get sunburnt by “x” amount of radiation without sunscreen, SPF 30 sunscreen will protect your skin from sunburn for up to 30 times “x” amount of radiation.

However, notice that SPF is only measured for sunburns (caused by UVB rays); SPF is completely useless for measuring defense against UVA rays. Therefore, if you are not careful, conventional sunscreens actually increase your risk of skin cancer because they create the false illusion of protection from the sun.

So how can we protect ourselves against both UVA and UVB radiation?

Look for sunscreens that offer broad-spectrum protection, and make sure that they have at least one of the following ingredients:

  • Zinc oxide
  • Avobenzone
  • Ecamsule

(Some broad-spectrum sunscreens use titanium dioxide, which studies have shown is not as effective as zinc oxide.)

And remember:

  • Conventional sunscreens only provide protection against UVB rays, not UVA rays.
  • UVA rays do not cause sunburn, but do cause other forms of damage to your skin which could result in aging and cancer.
  • Look for broad-spectrum sunscreens with zinc oxide, avobenzone or ecamsule—others are less effective.
  • The sun’s radiation varies throughout the day; you need more sunscreen the closer you are to noon.


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Ed: Dejah Beauchamp & Brianna Bemel

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