UV Exposure: Why Do We Ignore the Health Risks?

 

Published Thursday 17 July 2014

By Honor Whiteman

The sun is shining, so what are your plans? For many of us, the answer will be to hit the beach and soak up the rays. But while you are busy packing beachwear and towels, are you considering the dangers of sun exposure?

Exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation – from the sun, tanning beds, lamps or booths – is the main cause of skin cancer, accounting for around 86% of non-melanoma and 90% of melanoma skin cancers. In addition, excessive UV exposure can increase the risk of eye diseases, such as cataract and eye cancers.

The health risks associated with exposure to UV radiation have certainly been well documented, so much so that the World Health Organization (WHO) have now officially classed UV radiation as a human carcinogen.

This year alone, Medical News Today reported on an array of studies warning of UV exposure risks. One study, published in the journal Pediatrics, revealed that tanning bed use among youths can increase the risk of early skin cancer, while other research found that multiple sunburns as an adolescent can increase melanoma risk by 80%.

Furthermore, in response to reported health risks, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently changed their regulation of tanning beds, lamps and booths. Such products must now carry a visible, black-box warning stating that they should not be used by anyone under the age of 18.

How does UV radiation cause damage?

UV radiation consists of three different wavebands: UVA, UVB and UVC. The UVC waveband is the highest-energy UV but has the shortest wavelength, meaning it does not reach the earth’s surface and does not cause skin damage to humans.

However, UVA has a long wavelength and accounts for 95% of solar UV radiation that reaches the earth’s surface, while UVB – with a middle-range wavelength – accounts for the remainder. Tanning beds and tanning lamps primarily emit UVA radiation, sometimes at doses up to 12 times higher than that of the sun.

Both UVA and UVB radiation can damage the skin by penetrating its layers and destroying cellular DNA. UVA radiation tends to penetrate deeper layers of skin, known as the dermis, aging the skin cells and causing wrinkles. UVB radiation is the main cause of skin reddening or sunburn, as it damages the outer layers of the skin, known as the epidermis.

Excessive UV exposure can cause genetic mutations that can lead to the development of skin cancer. The browning of the skin, or a tan, is the skin’s way of trying to stop further DNA damage from occurring.

Of course, it is not only the skin that can be subject to damage from UV radiation. Bright sunlight can penetrate the eye’s surfaces tissues, as well as the cornea and the lens.

Ignoring the risks of UV exposure

But regardless of the numerous studies and health warnings associated with UV exposure, it seems many of us refuse to take note.

A 2012 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 50.1% of all adults and 65.6% of white adults ages 18-29 reported suffering sunburn in the past 12 months, indicating that sun protection measures are not followed correctly, if at all.

A more recent study from the University of California-San Francisco stated that the popularity of indoor tanning is “alarming” – particularly among young people.

The study revealed that 35% of adults had been exposed to indoor tanning, with 14% reporting tanning bed use in the past year. Even more of a concern was that 43% of university students and 18% of adolescents reported using tanning beds in the past year.

Overall rates of tanning bed use, the researchers estimate, may lead to an additional 450,000 non-melanoma and 10,000 melanoma skin cancer cases every year.

It seems unbelievable that so many of us are willing to put our health at risk to soak up some sunshine. So why do we do it?

The desire for a ‘healthy tan’

A recent study published in the journal Cell suggested that UV radiation causes the body to release endorphins – “feel-good” hormones – which makes sun exposure addictive.

But Tim Turnham, executive director of the Melanoma Research Foundation, told Medical News Today that many people simply favor a tanned body over health:

“Despite elevated awareness of the dangers of UV radiation, people still choose to ignore the dangers in the pursuit of what they consider to be a ‘healthy tan.’ This is particularly an issue among young people who tend to ignore health risks in favor of enhancing their social status and popularity. We know that tanning appeals to people who are interested in being included, and this is a primary driver for teens – being part of the ‘in’ crowd.”

Anita Blankenship, health communication specialist at the CDC, told us that the desire for a tan is particularly common among young women.

“In the US, nearly 1 in 3 young white women ages 16-25 years engages in indoor tanning each year,” she said. “These young women may experience pressure to conform to beauty standards, and young people may not be as concerned about health risks.”

Turnham agreed, telling us that the indoor tanning industry specifically targets this population. “Aggressive marketing, deep discount and package deals are used routinely by tanning salons, who market their services preferentially to young women,” he said.

Blankenship added that the public are also presented with “conflicting messages” when it comes to the safety of excess UV exposure. She pointed out that a recent US report found that only 7% of tanning salons reported any harmful effects from tanning beds, booths or lamps, while 78% reported health benefits.

“It is important to monitor deceptive health and safety claims about UV exposure, as they may make it difficult for consumers to adequately assess risk,” she told us. “It is important for people to understand that tanned skin is damaged skin, and that damage can lead to wrinkles and early aging of the skin, as well as skin cancer including melanoma – the kind of skin cancer that leads to the most deaths.”

Progress has been made, but more needs to be done

This month is UV Safety Month – an annual campaign that aims to increase public awareness of the health implications caused by UV exposure.

With the help of such campaigns and an increase in studies detailing UV risks, many health care professionals believe there has been a change for the better in attitudes toward UV exposure.

Many health care professionals believe much progress has been made in increasing awareness of UV exposure risks in recent years, but more needs to be done.

“Certainly the scientific community, a number of federal agencies, and possibly the general public are more aware of the risk of UV exposure,” a spokesperson from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) told Medical News Today.

“Action and more coordinated efforts increased markedly about 4 years ago, when a number of epidemiological studies documented the harms of indoor tanning, the FDA held their scientific advisory committee meeting to discuss need for changing indoor tanning device regulations, and they also acted on their previous proposals to change sunscreen regulations.”

The spokesperson continued:

“We think these summaries acted as a catalyst for efforts to make the public and policy makers aware of the risks of indoor tanning, and also they gave a boost to efforts to increase awareness of outdoor sun exposure risks and encourage sun safe protective behaviors.”

In addition, some studies have indicated that many youngsters may even be moving away from the use of tanning beds. A recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, indoor tanning activity decreased from 15.6% in 2009 to 12.8% in 2013.

Turnham told us that since sunless tanning – such as the use of spray tans – is on the increase, it may be that youngsters are using this as an alternative to tanning salons. But the NCI spokesperson said such an association needs to be investigated before any conclusions can be reached:

“We do not know if changes in indoor tanning are related to increases in use of spray-on and sunless tanning products and services,” they told us. “Some studies indicate that sunless products and services are used by people who continue to engage in indoor tanning, but it is an area we continue to research. We are hopeful that we will be able to measure this in an upcoming national survey supplement that is being developed by NCI and CDC.”

But despite widespread efforts to increase UV safety awareness, Turnham believes there is still a lot more that can be done to protect public health:

“Regulators could and should do much more to fight the ravages of UV exposure. We need federal legislation banning the use of tanning beds by minors. We need more funding for awareness and prevention efforts.”

He added that doctors can also play a role in increasing UV exposure awareness by warning patients of associated risks – something the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommend. They state that health care providers should counsel fair-skinned youths between the ages of 10 and 24 about the risks of indoor tanning and how to protect themselves against UV radiation from the sun.

However, Turnham noted that doctors do not have much time with each patient and proposes that signage in waiting areas warning of the risks of UV exposure may also be effective.

Protecting against UV radiation

Whether there will be further regulation for indoor tanning or an increase in awareness efforts is unclear. But one thing is certain: we can help ourselves to avoid the negative health implications associated with UV exposure.

The American Cancer Society notes young children need extra protection from the sun, as they spend more time outside and can burn easily.

The CDC recommend the following for protecting against UV radiation:

  • Stay in the shade if possible, particularly when the sun is at its strongest – usually around midday
  • Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs
  • Wear a wide-brimmed hat that provides shade for your head, face, ears and neck
  • Wear wrap-around sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB radiation
  • Use sunscreen with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 that protects against UVA and UVB radiation, and reapply every 2 hours
  • Avoid indoor tanning.

In addition, the American Cancer Society notes young children need extra protection from the sun as they spend more time outside and can burn easily. They add that babies younger than 6 months should be kept out of direct sunlight and be covered with protective clothing. Sunscreen should never be used on an infants skin.

As  we embark on the glorious, sunny days of the summer season and enter into the Fourth of July Celebration, let’s do all we can to protect ourselves and our little ones from UV rays’ potential threats to our skin. Remember, UV rays are the major causes of several deadly skin cancers and sunscreen is one of the most easy and accessible ways to protect against them. So, get out those sunscreen tubes and cover your head with a hat and your eyes with some shades because sun protection is trending today and everyday!

And, if you do find an odd spot on your body’s biggest organ, you can use HealthLynked to find a great physician near you and get the help you need.  Simply go to HealthLynked.com and sign up for free, then Connect and collaborate through HealthLynked to heal your skin!

 

Genes linked with sunburn, skin cancer risk

 

May 8, 2018

Certain genes can determine which people are more at risk of getting sunburn and possibly develop skin cancer as a result..

In a trawl of the genetics of nearly 180,000 people of European ancestry in Britain, Australia, the Netherlands and United States, researchers found 20 sunburn genes.

Eight of the genes had been associated with skin cancer in previous research, according to findings published in the journal Nature Communications.

And in at least one region of the genome, “we have found evidence to suggest that the gene involved in melanoma risk… acts through increasing susceptibility to sunburns,” co-author Mario Falchi of King’s College London told AFP.

Sun exposure is critical for the body’s production of vitamin D, which keeps bones, teeth, and muscles healthy, and which scientists say may help stave off chronic diseases, even cancer.

But too much can be painful in the short-term, and dangerous for your health.

The new study, which claims to be the largest to date into the genetics of sunburn, helps explain why people with the same skin tone can have such different reactions to exposure to sunlight—some burn red while others tan brown.

It may also begin to explain factors in skin cancer risk.
“It is necessary to explore these genes in more detail, to understand the mechanism by which they contribute to propensity to burn,” said Falchi.

In future, the research may help identify people at risk, through genetic testing.

“People tend to ‘forget’ that sunburns are quite dangerous,” said Falchi.

“Given the rise in incidence in skin cancer, we hope that knowing there is a genetic link between sunburn and skin cancer may help in encouraging people to lead a healthy lifestyle.”

More information: Genome-wide association study in 176,678 Europeans reveals genetic loci for tanning response to sun exposure, Nature Communications (2018).
nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/s41467-018-04086-y
Journal reference: Nature Communications

Millennials aren’t getting the message about sun safety and the dangers of tanning

Many millennials lack knowledge about the importance of sunscreen and continue to tan outdoors in part because of low self-esteem and high rates of narcissism that fuel addictive tanning behavior, a new study from Oregon State University-Cascades has found.

Lead author Amy Watson and her colleagues found that those with higher levels of self-esteem were less likely to tan, while those with lower self-esteem and higher levels of narcissism were more likely to present addictive tanning behavior. The motivation for the addictive tanning behavior was the perception of improved appearance.

“This study gives us a clearer understanding of actual consumer behavior,” said Watson, an assistant professor of marketing at OSU-Cascades. “The number of people still deliberately exposing their skin to the sun for tanning purposes is alarming. We need to find new ways to entice people to protect their skin, including challenging the ideal of tan skin as a standard of beauty.”

The findings were published recently in the Journal of Consumer Affairs. Co-authors are Gail Zank and Anna M. Turri of Texas State University.

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, with more than 3.5 million cases diagnosed annually. Melanoma cases among women rose sharply between 1970 and 2009, with an 800 percent increase among women 18 to 39.

In an effort to improve consumer education about the role of sunscreen in the prevention of skin cancer, the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration developed a new “Drug Facts” panel of information now required on all sunscreen bottles. The panel includes directions for sunscreen use and advice on other sun protection measures, among other information.

The researchers’ goal with the study was to gauge whether the information on this new label is effective at curbing tanning behavior and if new information is helping to increase consumer knowledge about how and when to use sunscreen and how much to use.

The study of 250 college students, most between 18 and 23 years old, measured their sun safety knowledge and included: questions about their beliefs regarding sunscreen effectiveness and ultraviolet light exposure danger; questions about tanning motivation and behavior; an assessment of tanning addiction; and personality questions relating to self-esteem, narcissism, appearance and addictive behavior.

The study participants, 47 percent male and 53 percent female, scored an average of 54 percent on an 11-question sun safety knowledge test, which included true/false statements such as: “On a daily basis I should use at least one ounce of sunscreen on exposed skin” (true); and “When applied correctly, SPF 100 is twice as effective as SPF 50” (false).

About 70 percent of the study participants reported purposefully exposing their skin to the sun to achieve a tan. About a third of the participants reported that having a tan is important to them, while about 37 percent said they feel better with a tan, and 41 percent indicated that having a tan makes them more confident in their appearance

The participants’ levels of tanning addiction were measured through questions such as “I get annoyed when people tell me not to tan,” and “I continue to tan knowing that it is bad for me,” and “I feel unattractive or anxious to tan if I do not maintain my tan.”

The researchers found that those with lower self-esteem and higher narcissism rates were also more likely to exhibit addictive tanning behavior. They found no evidence that increased knowledge about sun safety leads to lower levels of addictive tanning.

“What we found is that this knowledge doesn’t matter to the consumers,” Watson said. “That tactic to require sunscreen manufacturers to include this information is not effective.”

Sun safety and sunscreen messaging from the CDC is all statistics-based, emphasizing the likelihood of a skin cancer occurrence or diagnosis, Watson said. But that type of message isn’t resonating with millennials. The next step for Watson and her colleagues is to begin testing other types of messages to identify ways millennials would respond more positively to sun safety measures.

“People are starting to get the message about the dangers of using tanning beds, but a large number of people are still tanning outdoors, deliberately exposing their skin to the sun, because they think it’s attractive,” she said.

“We need to move away from the narrative where tan skin is associated with health and youth. That’s the opposite of reality. Because reality is tan skin is damaged skin.”

More information: Amy Watson et al, I Know, but I Would Rather Be Beautiful: The Impact of Self-Esteem, Narcissism, and Knowledge on Addictive Tanning Behavior in Millennials, Journal of Consumer Affairs (2018). DOI: 10.1111/joca.12179
Provided by: Oregon State University

Here comes the sun, and kid sun safety

(HealthDay)—Summer sun brings childhood fun, but experts warn it also brings skin cancer dangers, even for kids.

“Don’t assume children cannot get skin cancer because of their age,” said Dr. Alberto Pappo, director of the solid tumor division at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. “Unlike other cancers, the conventional melanoma that we see mostly in adolescents behaves the same as it does in adults.”

His advice: “Children are not immune from extreme sun damage, and parents should start sun protection early and make it a habit for life.”

So, this and every summer, parents should take steps to shield kids from the sun’s harmful UV rays.

Those steps include:

* Avoid exposure. Infants and children younger than 6 months old should avoid sun exposure entirely, Pappo advised. If these babies are outside or on the beach this summer, they should be covered up with hats and appropriate clothing. It’s also a good idea to avoid being outside when UV rays are at their peak, between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.

* Use sunscreen. It’s important to apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen to children’s exposed skin. Choose one with at least SPF15 that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Pappo cautioned that sunscreen needs to be reapplied every couple of hours and after swimming—even if the label says it is “water-resistant.”

However, sunscreen should not be used on infants younger than 6 months old because their exposure to the chemicals in these products would be too high, he noted.

* Keep kids away from tanning beds. Melanoma rates are rising among teenagers, partly due to their use of indoor tanning beds. Use of tanning beds by people younger than 30 boosts their risk for this deadly form of cancer by 75 percent, according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

* Get children screened. Early detection of melanoma is key to increasing patients’ odds of survival. Children with suspicious moles or skin lesions should be seen by a doctor as soon as possible, Pappo advised. Removing melanoma in its early stages also increases the chances of avoiding more invasive surgical procedures later on, he added.

More information: There are more sun-safety tips at the Skin Cancer Foundation.