Sunburning and Tanning
by Dr. Carol L. Piatt
(Comments from a presentation:)
First of all, with only one minor exception, the sun has NO beneficial effects on human skin. This exception is vitamin D metabolism. Sunlight converts a precursor of vitamin D into an activated form. This is only a part of our total source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is also found in dairy products and vitamin supplements. Since inadequate vitamin D is not a common in the United States, and other "healthier" sources are available, the sun is not needed to produce a healthy body. And the sun produces some not so dangerous as well as very dangerous effects on the skin that unfortunately show up 20, 30, even 50 years later.
Here are some sun facts to illustrate my points concerning the sun:
- Photodamage or sun damage to the skin accounts for 90% of the skin's age associated cosmetic problems such as brown liver spots, wrinkling, etc.
- In the United States, we spend $14 billion per year on cosmetics to camouflage, reverse or prevent sun aging related problems.
- A large survey of the general public revealed the following; 73% believed the sun caused wrinkling but only 41% use sunscreens. 50% of sunscreen users did not understand the SPF rating system which is the numeric rating system for sunscreen products.
- Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer seen in the United States and it's rapidly increasing. Consider this example. Melanoma, which is the pigmented form of skin cancer and also the most dangerous, has an increased incidence from 1.2 persons in 100,000 during the 1930's to 10 persons in 100,000 in the 1980's. This is roughly a 10 fold increase in only 50 years. It represents our increased leisure time and our increased love affair with the sun and suntans.
- Using full protection sunscreen (SPF #15 or higher) in children ages 6 months to 18 years will not only prevent sunburn but will decrease that child's overall incidence of basal cell cancer and squamous cell cancer by 78%. This is because 75% of your total lifetime sun dosage is reached by your early 20's. Also, studies show that sun exposure during childhood and adolescence is more damaging than sun obtained later in your life.
- The effect of the sun on your skin is cumulative. So while you're abusing your skin with sunburns and sun tan parlors, you will not notice the long term problems. But later on, when the skin reaches that threshold, changes will start to happen like accelerated aging, precancerous and cancerous lesions which, by the time this starts to develop, are too late to prevent. You are then stuck with that skin for the rest of your life. At this point, using sunscreens is not very helpful. The damage has already been done.