One early spring day in April, a co-worker returned from a week’s vacation in Florida and asked me if it looked like she had a tan. “No,” I replied and then said to her, “that’s not good for you.”
“I don’t care,” she said to me, “I want a tan.”
I looked her straight in the eye and said, "It’s a good thing Sarah isn’t around to hear you say that.”
Her face fell as she whispered, “I totally forgot."
Our co-worker, Sarah Toller died of melanoma at the age of 30 less than a year before, and already the warnings that she expressed on her blog had been forgotten by some of the people who missed her. Over the past winter, more than a few of the women in our office returned from sunnier climes with noticeably darkened skin, and in one case, a horrendous sunburn that blistered within days of her return.
The sneers and jeers (“Why don’t you just wear an asbestos suit?”) directed at my personal precautions (sunscreen, big dark glasses, long sleeves, parasols) are disheartening, but so is reading some of the “un-sun-safe” things that other members of this website do. (“Put sunscreen on your eyelids so that if you fall asleep in the sun, they won’t get burnt.”)
It’s two years since I last wrote a “summer sunscreen rant," so here is some of the more up-to-date information available on sun exposure from various studies:
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a branch of the World Health Organization) conducted a thorough review of all available worldwide data — 19 international studies — and found a strong association between tanning-bed use and melanoma risk. Across all age groups, males and females who have ever used tanning beds have a 15 percent higher risk of developing melanoma. More alarming still, people who first use a tanning bed before age 35 increase their risk for melanoma by 75 percent.*
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin necessary for calcium absorption, bone growth, and in assisting our immune systems in fighting off infections — including cancers. Up to age 50, 200 IUs is a sufficient daily dose for women and men. As vitamin D is not naturally found in many foods, vitamin supplements are required. Most milk sold in North America is fortified with vitamin D, as are some brands of orange juice. A tablespoon of cod liver oil provides 340 percent of the daily requirement of the vitamin and a standard serving of most fish will provide an adequate supply.
Sun exposure also provides vitamin D as UVB exposure stimulates dehydrocholesterol in our skin to convert to the vitamin. However, depending on your skin tone, the amount of time you need to be in the sun without protection (during the peak hours) can be as little as 5 minutes twice a week, and up to 30 minutes twice a week for people with the darkest skin tones.
According to the Office of Dietary Supplements of the National Institutes of Health in the United States: “Sunscreens with a sun protection factor of 8 or more appear to block vitamin D-producing UV rays, although in practice people generally do not apply sufficient amounts, cover all sun-exposed skin, or reapply sunscreen regularly. Skin likely synthesizes some vitamin D even when it is protected by sunscreen as typically applied.”
The study goes on to say: “It is not known whether a desirable level of regular sun exposure exists that imposes no (or minimal) risk of skin cancer over time.” **
More than a few members here say that they don’t use sunscreen on their faces — in fact, they don’t need it at all because their mineral makeup has SPF in it (most of them contain titanium dioxide). Titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide are barrier chemicals found in several sun protection products on the market, most notably Ombrelle.
However, there is simply not even close to an adequate amount of either chemical or mineral foundation to supply sun protection to the level indicated by the SPF rating on the product. In the May issue of Allure in the article “Sun Daze”, Dr. Leslie Baumann was quoted as saying that with respect to powders with SPF, it would take 14 times more powder than one would usually wear in order to get the stated SPF protection. With cream and liquid foundations, one would need to apply 7 times as much.
I tracked Dr. Baumann down at her office at the University of Miami where she is the Director of the Cosmetic Medicine Group. I wanted to ask her if this included mineral foundation or just face powders with SPF in them. Her reply:
“Yes, this is true of mineral makeup as well. I would love help getting this info out.”
Dr. Baumann, I’m more than happy to help spread the word. A separate sunscreen is required even if you wear mineral makeup. Check out her site for more information.
Lip gloss causes cancer
You might have seen the headlines on CNN at the end of April; I know I did: “Lip gloss may pose cancer risk."
Before you throw away $500 worth of MAC LipGlass (okay, $600 worth), the truth is that the gloss itself is not cancer-causing. The problem is that most gloss products have no SPF in them at all and the shininess acts like a magnifying glass, intensifying the sun’s rays on the part of your body where the skin is the thinnest and most vulnerable to damage.
“Cancer occurring on the lower lip can be much more aggressive than other forms of skin cancer and there is the potential for spread to nearby lymph nodes. Any changes to the color of the lip, especially if the lip turns white or opaque, should be checked immediately by a dermatologist as should any persistent flaking or peeling on the lips.” ***
Using a gloss over a full-color lipstick (not a glaze or sheer formula) is one way to protect your lips. Or you could layer your gloss over a lip balm containing SPF like Blistex Clear Advance or Ultra Protection, Ombrelle Lip Balm, and Chapstick Ultra. Banana Boat, Hawaiian Island Creations, Carmex and SoftLips all make balms with SPF too. Many more can be found at Drugstore.com, often on sale.
Enjoy the sun safely this summer; follow the prevention tips of the Skin Cancer Foundation.