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Sun Sense Is Not Nonsense

Sun Sense Is Not Nonsense

Learning to deal with the summer sun

Much of what we know about the sun’s effects on human skin has been discovered in the past 20 or 30 years. The creation of the SPF (Sun-Protection Factor) has led to more organized and simplified way. We realize that a sun block or SPF-15 or higher, for example, will prevent exposure to UVB rays that burn and in some preparations, block out UVA rays that can cause skin cancers including malignant melanoma.

Getting a “great tan” really is no longer considered desirable, and in fact, is quite risky. The least dangerous price for this “tan” could be photoaging (premature aging of skin due to ultraviolet light exposure), which produces dry, leathery skin and wrinkles, among other undesirable effects.Be aware that a suntan whether acquired from the sun directly, or from a tanning studio, provides an indicator that damage has been done to the skin.When skin is overexposed to sunlight, melanin is summoned as a defense by the body, producing a darker skin appearance (suntan). This produces however, a low level of sun protection, which does not prevent the ravages of UVA and UVB from occurring. Artificial tans from self-tanners do not offer any protection since such products only stain the skin. The types of ultraviolet radiation

There are three general categories of ultraviolet radiation. UVA radiation has a wavelength range of 320-400 nanometers (nm) and is capable of tanning the skin with only very weak reddening (erythema). It can also cause elastin and collagen breakdown and malignant melanomas because UVA penetrates deep into the dermis. UVB radiation has a wavelength of 290-320 nm, is the major cause of sunburn, and also stimulates the tanning response. Maximal erythemal effect occurs at 308-311 nm. UVC radiation has a wavelength of 200-290 nm and has a germicidal and erythemal effect, but does not reach the earth’s surface from the sun while the ozone layer is intact. It can be emitted by artificial UV sources (sun-lamps, tanning booths, etc.) and must be guarded against. The carcinogenic spectrum is 290-334 nm, a slight overlap of the UVB spectrum into UVA radiation wavelength. The drying and wrinkling effect that impart a prematurely aged appearance is cause by excessive exposure to the UVB spectrum. The length of exposure that will produce a burn on a particular subject varies greatly with the individual and recency of the previous exposure. Repeated sun exposure

Some time after a sunburn or suntan, the skin appears to go “back to normal,” looking as if the sun-induced change has disappeared completely. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cellular damage caused by ultraviolet radiation is cumulative and often irreversible. Given enough sun exposure, anyone, with and skin coloration, can experience cosmetic damage and skin cancer; however, these conditions are more prevalent in fair-skinned individuals. Consider your skin type, elements of your health history, how quickly you burn, and how much of a “sun worshipper” you are. Skin is classified into six groups, according to the tendency to sunburn.

Know Your Skin Type
Skin Type Skin Reaction Examples
1 Always burn easily and severely (painful burn); tans little or not at all and peels. People with fair skin, blue or even brown eyes, freckles, unexposed skin is white
2 Usually burns easily and severely (painful burn); tans minimally or lightly, also peels. People with fair skin, red blond or brown hair, blue, hazel or brown eyes; unexposed skin is white.
3 Burns moderately, tans about average. Average Caucasian; Unexposed skin is white
4 Burns minimally, tans easily and above average age with each exposure; exhibits IPD* reaction. People with white or light brown skin, dark brown hair, dark eyes; exposed skin is white or light brown
5 Rarely burns, tans easily and substantially, always exhibits IPD* reaction. Brown-skinned person; unexposed skin brown
6 Never burns or tans profusely; exhibits IPD* reaction Black persons; unexposed skin is black
*IPD – Immediate Pigment Darkening


Factors in your health history that place you at higher risk for skin cancer-and mandate extra protection-include: a family history of skin cancer, a person history of skin cancer, a record of painful or blistering sunburns, especially when young, and per-cancerous lesions. Quantifying sun damage

Minimal Erythema Dose or MED, is an easy way to quantify sun damage. It is defined as “the smallest amount of sunlight exposure necessary to induce a barely perceptible redness of the skin within 24 hours after sun exposure.” To determine sun sensitivity, expose the inner part of your forearm to about 15 minutes of sun on a clear, sunny summer day at noon. Later, check exposed areas. If any reddening appears-immediately or by the next day-you are a very sun-sensitive individual and must exert all possible precautions against the sun. The average MED for an untanned, fair-skinned person (who is not wearing any kind of sun block) at noon, is about 15-20 minutes. SAR or Sun Affinity Ratio or Sun Seeking Behavior, is the amount of time you actually spend in the sun. This is really an estimate of hours you may spend outdoors, in a tanning booth, or under a sun lamp not only on a daily basis, but al year round. If you’ve not been exposed to the sun, your skin can’t be sun damaged. Realize that all the time you spend outdoors-a job that keeps you outdoors daily-at the beach, for example-without laying out for an intentional tan, i.e. running, jogging, walking for fitness, playing outdoor sports such as baseball, tennis, soccer, football, skiing, things at home such as gardening, walking the dog, chatting with a neighbor on the sidewalk. All constitute “sun time.” If you are out in the sun constantly, your increase in susceptibility to develop skin cancer is tremendously enhanced. Examine your sun seeking behavior-your SAR is very high if you’re a sun seeker. If you constantly avoid the sun your SAR is low and the incidence of skin cancer is then greatly reduced. SPF products

Regardless of your overall risk factor, a sunscreen of 15 or greater is recommended for everyone. For quite some time, the emphasis in the skin care market was on higher and higher SPF products. The “numbers game” took on an all to familiar precedent. One-upmanship was the game . . . numbers climbed. Most dermatologists, however, acknowledged that SPF-15 sun block was certainly an effective protection, and the level of chemical, or organic ingredients was minimal yet effective. No one could prognosticate the possible side effects years later that could be created by using higher SPF products requiring greater amounts of active ingredients. SPF-15, for example, offers the same level of protection as SPF-30, although for a shorter length of time between reapplication. However-ponder this-if you burn in 15 minutes, at high noon, in strong sunlight, with not protection . . . applying an SPF-15 will protect you for 10 times the 15 minutes you can tolerate (MED), so, after applying an SPF-15, you are protected for 150 minutes . . . 2 and ½ hours in one day application for sunscreen, applied 15 minutes before exposure. Today, how many people would be unwise enough to spend 2 and ½ hours without a break from the broiling, dangerous sun? Not too many, I would hope. Besides, reapplying your sunscreen at 2 and ½ hour intervals during the day doesn’t seem to present much difficulty. Especially knowing that you are keeping the dose of sunscreen ingredient on you skin to a minimum. Today’s sunscreens can be hypo-allergenic, sweat proof, water resistant, waterproof, rub proof, organic (chemical), or contain physical blockers, such as titanium dioxide and zinc oxide. Sweat proof: Indicates the product will not be broken down with water or perspiration and will not sting the eyes. Water resistant: Prevents your protection from being washed away for up to 40 minutes of water exposure. Water proof: These sunscreens and sun blocks should be good for 80 minutes. Rub proof: Indicates that the product can’t easily be rubbed off the body by clothing, towels, lounge chairs, sweat bands, etc. Some products now are specifically designed for dry, sensitive, and oily skin. These products were developed because some statistics (Schering-Plough Research) seem to indicate that 35% of U.S. women have dry skin, 39% have sensitive skin, and 27% have oily skin. An alpha-hydroxy complex is not available in some sun blocks to fight signs of photaging, with the additional benefit of delivering ceramides to the skin. Vitamin A, C, and E are also now more commonly founding sunscreen formulations. Sun-worshipping guidelines

There are specific guidelines that you must follow to protect yourself, and your client from the ravages of the sun. Try to adhere to the following sun safety program in order to follow through with the goal of sun safety program in order to follow through with the goal of sun protection, and stay under 1 MED of ultraviolet radiation each day. This program is from Dr. Perry Robins’ book Sun Sense. Use a suitable sunscreen

  • Wear protective clothing whenever possible, including a wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and long pants.
  • Avoid sun exposure during the period of most intense sunlight, i.e., 10am to 3pm
  • Limit your first seasonal exposure to the sun to only a few minutes, gradually increasing the time by a few minutes on each successive day to allow your skin’s melanin reserves sufficient time to come into play.
  • At the beach, use an umbrella, sun hat, and protective clothing. Never count on your skin to tell you when to get out of the sun.
  • Protect neglected areas, such as the backs of the hands, the tops of the ears, the nape of the neck, bald spot, shoulders, the tip of the nose, feet, and cheeks.
  • In the wintertime, you should use a sunscreen because the sun’s rays reflect off the snow or concrete.
  • Be sure to protect the skin on overcast, cool, and breezy days when you may not feel hot, because ultraviolet light is still plentiful.
  • Use polarized sunglasses, those that screen out up to 400 nm; neutral grays and high-contrast browns are the best colors.
  • If you are a high-risk individual, and/or have an outdoor occupation, use a sunscreen daily.

It is suggested that carefully evaluating the sunscreens on the market, making certain to choose one that contains not only UVB blockers, but UVA and UVC blockers as well would be desired. Some products which are combinations of physical and chemical blockers might be worth further consideration. Waterproof (rather than water-resistant), as well as rub proof products are recommended. Further, recommended reading on the subject would be two books by Dr. Perry Robins, President of the Skin Cancer Foundation; Play it Safe in the Sun and Sun Sense, both published by the Skin Cancer Foundation, 245 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2402, Dept. SSK, New York, NY 10016.


1. Robins, Perry, M.D. Sun-Sense p. 40, chapter 3. 2. Robins, Perry, M.D. Sun-Sense p. 45, chapter 3. 3. Robins, Perry, M.D. Sun-Sense p. 46, chapter 3. 4. Branna, Tom. “The Sun Care Market.” Happi March 1996. p. 72 5. Robins, Perry, M.D. Sun-Sense p. 77, chapter 5.

Bob Posner is Director of Research and Development of ABBE Cosmetic Group, International, N.Y. He is a respected speaker, past member of the N.Y. State Council of Hospital Pharmacists, American Pharmaceutical Association, Associate member of the American Society of Hospital Pharmacists and former board member of ICMAD. He is involved in manufacturing and distributing skincare products.

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