Summer has arrived, and it is starting to heat up. It is important to stay hydrated, seek shade during the day and apply sunscreen. These are common sense facts to those from the Southwest with its 105 plus degrees heat. But for those visiting, these common sense facts might not be on the top of their list.
Speaking of sunscreen, did you know skin cancer is the most common malignancy in the United States affecting more than 3.3 million individuals each year? Reduction in the exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation is paramount in protecting against this type of cancer. There are two types of UV rays, UVA and UVB. UVB causes sunburns and skin cancer.
Sunscreens are the most common way to protect uncovered skin, however there has been quite a bit of chatter about sunscreens recently. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in May 2019 looked at 4 main ingredients found in different sunscreens, namely: Avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, and ecamsule (try to say those fast 5 times)! In summary what they found was the concentration in the blood of these compounds were higher than expected for all four products when used under maximal conditions (application 4 times per day to 75% of the body surface area for 4 days).
What does this mean for you? Well, the researchers are not sure. It does NOT mean that they are unsafe, and the results do not indicate that individuals should refrain from the use of sunscreens. An urgent question, however, is understanding the absorption in infants and children, who have different ratios of the body service area to overall size whose skin may absorb substances at different rates. Their skin may even respond differently to these sunscreens. There was for instance a reported case in Canada of a caustic burn to a small child after using a “spray on” sunscreen, however the active (or inactive) ingredients were not discussed. It is important to point out that this occurrence is very rare.
Two compounds that will likely get an FDA designation as “generally regarded as safe and effective” (GRASE) in a 2019 proposed rule are zinc oxide and titanium dioxide. The compounds mentioned in the above JAMA article will receive “insufficient evidence” of GRASE requiring additional testing, which may include assessing for carcinogenicity and reproductive impact.
Considering the above-mentioned information, protection from the sun is critical in helping to stem the risk for skin cancers. Seeking shade, avoiding high peak radiation times (10 am to 4 pm) and wearing protective clothing, hats and sunglasses are great option (wherever you find yourself), but for unprotected skin, sunscreen is your best options. If you should develop new skin lesions that appear abnormal or changes to existing skin lesions, you should discuss these with your Doctor or Dermatologist.
Summer is a great time to spend with family outdoors at the pool and in nature, making lasting memories. However, do not forget to decrease your risk of skin injury from the sun exposure by using protection. Remember, sunscreen should be applied 15 – 30 minutes prior to going outside and should be applied every one and a half hours after you sweat or swim.
We at URGENT SPECIALISTS wish you a happy and safe summer.
Dr. Robert Dean