Friday, May 23, 2008

Certain melanin makes skin more vulnerable to sunburn (2 of 2)

Study confirms what we know: Sun protection is critical
We've always known that people with fair skin and light hair have a greater chance of getting skin cancer from the sun than people with darker features. We simply assumed that people who did not tan lacked the protection that natural pigment provides in response to sun exposure.
Dr. Brash's study is very important because it explains in more detail how people with fair skin and light hair are at greater risk for skin cancer.
Type of melanin is a co-conspirator in causing skin cancer
Now we understand that it's
the type of melanin that
blondes and red-heads
have—pheomelanin—that seems to be important in skin cancer risk. This type of melanin acts as a co-conspirator in causing a person to be more at-risk for developing skin cancer. People with the other type of melanin—eumelanin—have darker hair. Interestingly, while dark-haired people with eumelanin can be fair-skinned, they don't burn as readily as a blonde or a red-head.
People fall into skin types. People with Type I skin burn in the sun and never tan. Type II individuals burn first then tan. Type III people always tan. At the far end of the spectrum are people who are very darkly pigmented. People with Type I skin, those at greatest risk for skin cancer, have pheomelanin.
Vigilance about sun protection
This study gives us more reason then ever to be vigilant about taking care of our skin and using good sun protection. If you didn't believe it before, the results of this study speak for themselves.
“There no such thing as a healthy suntan.”
For sun protection, I recommend using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 and reapplying it every couple of hours while active outdoors. Be sure the product you use has protection for both UVA and UVB rays:
• Look for sunscreens with parsol 1789 (avobenzone), the only FDA-approved UVA blocker.
• Products with titanium dioxide or zinc oxide provide protection against both UVA and UVB rays.
• Coppertone has just introduced a new sunscreen in a continuous spray which allows reaching difficult locations and provides even coverage of the whole body.
• Look for other innovative products that will make it easier to apply sunscreen regularly.
Protect yourself from the sun
Other sun protection measures to take include:
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat
• Stay out of the sun during the peak hours of 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
• Wear sunglasses that provide UVA protection. UVA exposure can cause cataracts.
• Wear sun-protective clothing if you are particularly fair.
There's no such thing as a healthy suntan. A tan is the body's reaction to sun exposure. We already know that just one blistering sunburn as a child can increase a person's lifetime chances of getting melanoma—the most serious form of skin cancer.
“The rays that come from the artificial bulbs [in tanning parlors] are just as likely to cause skin cancer as natural rays from the sun.”
Tanning salons
No discussion on sun protection would be complete without discussing the bad effects of tanning salons. We have seen a high increase of young people coming in with skin cancer, which we attribute to the popularity of tanning parlors. The rays that come from the artificial bulbs are just as likely to cause skin cancer as natural rays from the sun.
Have an annual body screening
As a last word of advice, see your doctor once a year for a full body skin cancer screening, especially as you age. Your doctor can find lesions of concern that you might not be able to see yourself.

Dr. Leffell is an attending physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital, professor of dermatology and surgery and chief of the section of dermatologic surgery and cutaneous oncology at the Yale School of Medicine. He is also author of Total Skin: The Definitive Guide To Whole Skin Care For Life (Hyperion, 2000).

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