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Radiant Sun or Radiant Skin?

Mills College Weekly

It’s not the same sun it was 50 years ago. Well,
technically it’s the same sun but we experience it
differently. In fact, the sun burns its mark in us much more so
than it did when our parents were young. As a result, we face
different challenges when it comes to skin care, both for vanity
and for health.

So what’s so different about the sun these days? And what
does that have to do with my rosy cheeks? The sun is the same sun
we’ve always had but our atmosphere has changed. This matters
because the sun emits more than the light we see and the heat we
feel. The sun also emits ultraviolet radiation called UVA and UVB.
The ozone layer, high up in our stratosphere, has absorbed much of
the UV radiation that bombards our planet. But, according to the
Environmental Protection Agency, that lofty layer isn’t what
it used to be. The ozone shield is being depleted well beyond
changes due to natural processes. I can’t say enough about
the virtue and necessity of environmental protection, preservation
and balance, especially because personal health and environmental
health are inseparable.

But today I’m focusing on our rosy cheeks. Less ozone
means more UV radiation. And more UVA and UVB means more of the
harmful effects linked to overexposure, which, according to the
American Cancer Society, means we need to think about our skin and
the rising incidence of skin cancer as well as less daunting forms
of skin damage.

More benign forms of skin damage from sun exposure include dry
skin, fine lines, wrinkles, early appearance of aging,
discolorations, and sun spots. On television and in magazines women
are bombarded with related advertising designed to send you
running, credit card in hand, to the nearest pharmacy cosmetics
counter. The good news is the ACS recommendations for preventing
skin cancer do wonders for these more cosmetic effects of sun
exposure while being notably easier on your bank account.

There are two main types of skin cancers, malignant melanoma and
nonmelanoma. The latter are usually squamous cell and basal cell
skin cancers and are not as dangerous as malignant melanoma. The
ACS reports that malignant melanoma accounts for only four percent
of skin cancer cases, but 79 percent of skin cancer deaths. And,
with the depletion of our ozone and subsequent increases in UV
exposure, the incidence rate of melanoma has increased, on average,
four percent per year since the early 1970s.

Interestingly enough, despite the rising level of public
awareness of the dangers of sun exposure, people are slow to
respond. Health and vitality is still associated with the sun
kissed tint we come back with from vacation. Many communities are
still riddled with tanning salons. Just this year the Archives of
Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine reported that more than 28
percent of white teenage girls and six percent of white teenage
boys in the U.S. have visited tanning salons repeatedly. Among
Americans as a whole, roughly 10 percent will visit a tanning salon
at some point during the year, according to the Indoor Tanning
Association. (Tanning beds, despite what salons say, are not safe
because they ‘emit only UVA.’ Both types of radiation
are harmful.)

A poll conducted by the ACS found 77 percent of men and women
believe that using sunscreen when they are outdoors greatly
contributes to reducing the risk of cancer. Yet when they were
asked what steps they have taken to reduce the risk of getting
cancer, just 13 percent say they protect their skin from the sun.
It’s no wonder that tropical locals are still the most
popular vacation destination and lounge chairs by hotel pools are
still filled with sunbathers.

Protecting ourselves not only reduces our skin cancer risk, it
keeps our skin looking good, and is easy and inexpensive. The ACS
“Slip! Slop! Slap!” slogan says it all. When
you’re going to be outdoors, slip on a shirt, slop on
sunscreen, and slap on a hat. Sunglasses that screen out
ultraviolet rays can protect eyes and the delicate skin that
surrounds them.