For some, memories of last year’s Ventura County Fair may include a concert from a group that was all about the romance of surfing, the beach and the sun. Anyone attending the concert probably noticed that the damage done the audience’s collagen by sunbathing so many years ago has taken its toll. Those of us who hummed along with The Beach Boys to The Warmth Of The Sun are starting to show the effects of those carefree days. Many of us look more like California Raisins than The Girl From Ipanema. As June Gloom burns off, I feel compelled to offer a few thoughts on UV rays.
For millions of years our prehistoric ancestors had dark skin. Too much ultraviolet radiation destroys the body’s Folic acid, which is crucial for embryonic development. The brown pigment or melanin in the skin is a defense. It dissipates the energy into harmless heat and blocks the UV from damaging the skin’s DNA.
70,000 to 100,000 years ago, when Homo sapiens began moving north where there was less sun, a mutation toward light skin allowed for more absorption of Vitamin D, which was also essential.
We all know the rest of the story, but if you don’t, I’ll fast forward to the part that has to do with Gidget and the Beach Boys. 50,000 years later, surfer girls and guys found that exposure to the sun’s rays caused their skin to darken. Not only did this darkening continue to protect from absorbing too many ultraviolet rays, but in modern times, it became a standard of beauty.
Then years later the bad news became apparent; too much time in the sun caused not only uncomfortable redness but also premature aging and worse yet, skin cancers. So someone invented sunscreen, and that should have been the happily-ever-after.
We dutifully slathered our kids and ourselves with confusing concoctions, as we tried to interpret such terms as: SPF, UVA, UVB, Waterproof, Sweatproof and Sunblock.
“Rays,” you say. “I’m just catching a few. As long as I wear my sunscreen, I’m safe. Right?” Maybe. It always has to get complex. That’s what science is about, making things more complicated before they become safer.
Researchers found that our sun dishes up two kinds of rays, the UVB, ultraviolet B or short rays, which cause sunburn and some skin cancers, and the more penetrating UVA, ultraviolet A or long rays that pose the greatest risk of skin cancer, premature aging and melanoma. These sneaky rays do not cause redness and can be absorbed through your car window. Not all sunscreens protect against them.
An article in the magazine Cure Today 2006, tells us that sunscreen strength is determined by SPF, Sun Protection Factor against UVB rays. So if it’s labeled SPF 15, it means it takes the skin 15 times longer to begin turning red than it would if you went out not wearing any. Of course, how much protection you need varies depending on whether your relatives are from Helsinki or Havana. Experts recommend SPF between 15 and 30. They also suggest reapplying every few hour and putting it on 30 minutes before going in the sun, as the stuff needs time to bind with the skin. Good advice! When was the last time you tried to get your kid out of the water to apply sunscreen? When was the last time you stopped a tennis match because you had sweated off your sunblock?
The FDA has gotten stricter about what testing is required to label the sunscreen Broad Spectrum (protects against both types of rays), and waterproof or sweatproof, because these terms are misleading if not altogether false. Next year’s labels will say water-resistant instead, and the companies will have to let you know how long you can swim or sweat before losing the protection. It’s promised that by the time the 2012 Fair rolls around, the FDA will have seen to it that we not only know what SPF we are buying but which rays the white goopy stuff is blocking and for how long.
Last year the FDA approved Zelboraf, a melanoma treatment that can target 50 % of these malignant tumors. This is great news!
From Connecticut to California, as we start to enjoy some of the warmest and sunniest days of the year, please continue to slather. Prevention is preferable.