Sunscreen and the Ultraviolet Truth

Time to slather on the sunscreen. We know the sun’s rays are dangerous and cancer causing, but it’s actually the type of UV ray you are exposed to that is of concern. With cases of skin cancer and melanoma on the rise, researchers have turned their attention to the effects of Ultraviolet-A (UVA) exposure.  While scientists have a solid understanding of the harms of Ultraviolet-B (UVB), the role of UVA has been largely ignored.  Recent research, however, suggests that UVA may play a significant role in the formation of malignant melanomas.

Anyone who spends time outdoors is familiar with ultraviolet radiation, but few know the difference between UVA and UVB.  Though most sunscreen is geared toward UVB protection, UVA exposure should be considered more seriously as it is more common and powerful.  More than 90 percent of UV rays that makes their way to the earth’s surface is UVA. Interestingly, UVA’s pass more easily through glass and clothes than UVB’s. Plus UVA rays are longer than UVB’s, allowing it to pierce the skin more deeply. UVC rays also exist, but they cannot penetrate the ozone and consequently do not reach the earth’s surface.

Thus far, there are still discrepancies in UVA-focused research.  In vitro studies, which involve taking tissues and manipulating them in an artificial laboratory setting, overwhelmingly demonstrate that UVA is responsible for creating malignant melanomas.  However, with in vivo studies, experimentation occurring on living subjects, have yet to replicate the in vitro findings.

Nonetheless, the startling in vitro results are cause for concern and further exploration of UVA’s consequences is underway.  In the meantime, be sure to skip the tanning beds, as their reliance on UVA exposure might not the healthier alternative they sometimes claim.  Limit your time in the sun and purchase sunscreen that blocks both UVB and UVA.  Proactive prevention today could mean a cancer-free life down the road. Don’t allow the sunshine to become a source of darkness in your later years!

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