Solstice occurred last month, but for most of us in California, June gloom diminished our urgency for heightened skin security. (This is clearly not the case, but this article is not meant to go into the physics of UV radiation.) Now that the sun is so visible (and hot), we are certainly more aware of our need for sunscreen. If you are like me, you dab some moisturizing sunscreen lotion on your face under your makeup before you venture out in the morning. And that’s it, unless perhaps you expect to spend a day at the beach or lie by the pool. This is, of course, not enough to prevent cancer (or aging) in the largest organ in our body; our skin.
A new study conducted in Queensland, Australia has provided evidence that regular use of “adequate” sunscreen significantly prevents melanoma. The study, which appeared in the “Commentary” section of JAMA, included 1621 adults randomized to regular sunscreen use or to discretionary use, which included no use at all. Those who were in the “use-a-lot-of-sunscreen” group were given an unlimited supply of broad-spectrum sunscreen with SPF of 16 and asked to apply it to head, neck, arms and hands every morning for 5 years. They were also told to reapply it after heavy sweating, bathing or long-sun exposure. Ten years after the end of the trial, 11 new melanomas were found in the 812 persons assigned to the daily sunscreen group and 22 melanomas among the 802 persons assigned to the discretionary group. That’s a 50% reduction. (Just so you don’t question other factors which could have led to this: both groups were similar for known risk factors such as light skin color, frequent outdoor sports, sunburn history, number of moles and history of skin cancer at the start of the trial.)
The author of the article points out that the only modifiable cause of melanoma is exposure to UV radiation. Individuals are considered to be at high risk for skin cancer if they have fair skin, freckling and tendency to sunburn, if they live or visit sunny climates or have a family tendency for melanoma. There seems to be no question that they (and this includes me) should routinely apply sunscreen before going out, especially if they live in locations with relatively high levels of ambient UV radiation such as Arizona, CALIFORNIA and Florida. This advice is also relevant to those living in temperate climates, but who vacation in sunny places.
Now what really got me interested: the amount of sunscreen we should be using… 2 coats (sounds like we are painting ourselves) or about 1 teaspoon of sunscreen to each body part prior to going outside. This should include the head, neck and ears; front of the trunk (our chest and décolletage); each arm, top of the hands and shoulders; the lower legs, upper legs, as well as the top of the feet (for flip flops or sandals). Your legs should be divided into upper and lower segments with each getting 1 teaspoon of slathered sunscreen. If you sweat heavily or towel off after exercise or swimming, you should reapply the sunscreen right after the activity, even if the sunscreen “offers” 8 hours of protection or claims to be water -resistant or sweat-resistant.
There were over 68,000 new patients diagnosed with melanoma in the U.S. in 2010. It may not be too late for each if us to change our sunscreen use and help prevent this form of potentially fatal skin cancer. Guess I’ll stock up, and even more importantly use it!