Dangers of Sun Exposure


I have three beautiful daughters! Two of them are redheads as were their grandmothers. It often does skip a generation because it is a recessive gene. Of my five siblings none of us are redheads!


The downside of having beautiful red hair is the inability to tan (unless you count freckles)! Redheads do not have the ability to form melatonin due to a lack of a precursor Eumelanin. My children threaten to put “Have you got your sunscreen on?” on my gravestone.


Tanning is a form of skin inflammation and we all know now that low-grade inflammation is a precursor of most diseases including skin cancer. Most skin cancers are not life-threatening but malignant melanoma certainly is life-threatening and is a leading cause of cancer deaths in young women.


We know now there are two important components to UV light; UVA or aging rays and UVB or burning rays. UVB leads to tanning or burning depending on your skin type. We all know to look for an SPF ({sun protection factor} on sunscreen, but few people know this sun protection factor is only related to UVB rays. So an SPF of 30 allows you to sit in the sun 30 times longer before you burn but the deadly UVA rays are still doing their silent damage. The danger of sunscreens protecting against UVB only is that you do not visibly burn and you can sit out in the sun longer. It is the invisible UVA rays that are responsible for skin damage and skin cancer. Most sunscreens marketed in America only protected against UVB rays until fairly recently. Broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays has been marketed in Europe and the rest of the world for many years. There are two different types of sunscreen. A physical barrier sunscreen which always contains zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide, and the chemical sunscreens which often contain a long list of ingredients that are not protective and may even be damaging such as; oxy-benzone retinol and parabens. Redheads have an increased risk for malignant melanoma because they do not produce enough melanin pigment. Unfortunately they are at increased risk for melanoma even when there is no sunlight, so melanoma can occur in areas that are never exposed to the sun.


Interestingly, redheads are more sensitive to pain particularly thermal changes such as heat and cold. They often require more local anesthetic before dental and surgical procedures.


What we eat and what we are exposed to in our environment affects how our skin ages and the increased risk for skin cancers. Dare I say it again, antioxidants in our diet are hugely important to our skin. In addition more and more evidence shows good fats found in flax, coconut oil, olive oil and avocados, fish and grass fed meat improve collagen production and elasticity. Vitamin D manufactured in the skin when it is exposed to the sunlight also protects against skin cancers (and many other cancers). Vitamin C is necessary for collagen production and can neutralize free radicals that lead to brown spots of aging.


A promising new finding is a sun protection one can take by mouth. Scientific studies in Europe and North America are showing some promising oral supplements that confer protection to our skin against aging and skin cancer. The most interesting one is a fungus that has been found in several studies to reverse the effects of aging and offer protection from exposure to UV light. Ultimately it is exposure to UV light that ages skin with subsequent breakdown of collagen, loss of elasticity, thinning of the skin and development of brown spots wrinkles and cancer. This product is marketed as Heliocare and is available on Amazon. Dermatologists are already recommending it. Studies are not showing any negative side effects to date. I am going to recommend it to my girls!

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