Sun Screen

May 20, 2014

By Trevor Shewfelt, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Cassandra was a princess of the Ancient Greek City of Troy. One day she ran into the Greek God Apollo. Apollo made some advances. Cassandra said no. Apollo cursed her such that she could predict the future, but no one would believe her. That drove her round the bend. She was then known as the princess who was beautiful but insane. You have to stretch the meaning of beauty a little to include my bald head and bloated mid-section, but mornings are driving me around the bend. I predict that tomorrow morning, and the day after that, and the day after that, etc. our dog Sheldon will need to go outside to relieve himself. I also predict my son Eric wont believe me. Eric will argue. Eric will make excuses. Eric will disappear. Eric will roll around on his bed telling me how unfair it is that his sister never has to walk the dog. The worst part is: he actually enjoys walking the dog! Sheldon and Eric always have a good time on the walk. Eric always comes back happier than when he left. It is just important to argue first.

My next prediction is that summer is coming. Really. I swear. And many of you wont protect your skin and will get sun burn and skin damage. Like Cassandra, I know you arent going to believe me, but when youre outside, use sunscreen. Too much sun can damage your skin. And that damage can add up. Sun exposure can lead to serious problems like skin cancer.

The sun emits radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to X-rays. The part of the spectrum we are interested in for skin damage are the Ultra-violet wavelengths. There are 2 types of UV radiation we talk about with skin damage, UVA and UVB. Sun burn is most often caused by UVB. UVA & UVB can both cause premature skin aging, and skin cancer.

Sun exposure is a factor in the development of three types of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma is caused by the exposure to UV radiation and is the most common type of skin cancer. Basal cell carcinoma often affects fair-skinned people with blond or red hair who sun burn easily. Basal cell carcinoma is usually very easy to treat. Squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common form of skin cancer, is caused by repeated exposure to the sun over a long period of time. It can be very successfully treated if it is identified early. Malignant melanoma is a less common skin cancer. We believe sun exposure is one of its causes. If malignant melanoma is found early, it has a high cure rate. However, if it is not caught early, it can spread to the blood stream and in the worst cases, it can cause death. If sunscreen is used properly, it has been shown to reduce the number of cases of squamous cell carcinoma, and it may help reduce the risk of malignant melanoma. There is debate about how well sun screens protect against basal cell carcinoma.

The Food and Drug Administration in the US started to require changes in the labeling of sunscreens in 2012. Health Canada followed suit in July 2013. Sunscreens can no longer be labeled Sunblock, and they cant claim immediate protection upon application. The FDA thinks sunblock implies too much protection. If the sunscreen protects against both UVA and UVB and has an SPF of 15 or greater, it can be labelled as Broad Spectrum. The FDA also wont allow a sunscreen to claim an SPF of greater than 50 as they feel there is no evidence that numbers above 50 have any real meaning. Sunscreens arent be able to say they are water proof or sweat proof. The are only be able to say they are water resistant. The label must state how long they are water resistant for. The two labeling options are water resistant for 40 minutes or water resistant for 80 minutes.

Sunscreen shouldnt be the only defense used to prevent skin cancer. Here are some practical suggestions.

  • Avoid the sun when it is most intense. This are generally between the hours of 11 am and 4 pm.
  • Seek the shade when you are outside for a long period of time
  • Wear a hat with a wide brim and long-sleeved shirt.

Like the beautiful Cassandra, I will keep making predictions. Sheldon will have go out tomorrow morning, and Eric wont believe me. I am going to forget a hat at one of Emilys soccer games and burn my bald head. One of you will not use sunscreen and a few decades from now will be talking to your doctor about skin cancer treatments. Come on. Just once, believe the predictions.

As always if you have any questions or concerns about these or other products, ask your pharmacist.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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Canadian Dermatology Association- Sun Safety -


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