With the long hazy days of summer now here, while other regions enjoy yearlong sunshine, it is important for all patients to know both the benefits and harms of sun exposure. New products to prevent the negative effects of sunlight as well as interesting new research on the effects of sun on the skin are rapidly coming down the pipeline.
Most exciting are new sunscreens which target specific wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) light. Two of these Anthelios SX and Helioplex were approved by the FDA recently. Anthelios has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 but will protect against the UVA band of light which is associated with aging and immune suppression. It has a chemical which filters the light but doesn’t break down after prolonged exposure to it. Helioplex is a product which can be added to existing sunscreens in order to cover a wider spectrum of damaging UVA lightwaves and may protect against certain types of sun-related skin eruptions. It is available in formulations as high as SPF 80 available through doctor’s offices.
While these new products hold exciting promise, especially for patients with very sun-sensitive skin, the American Academy of Dermatology is set to create a special “seal of approval” for certain established sunscreen products which it deems worthy. These products must provide protection against a broad array of UV light and carry a SPF of 15 or greater. They also must be resistant to water and sweat. This designation will carry the logo “Seal of Recognition” and will give patients a peace of mind when they are considering choosing skin protection products.
New research into the effects of sun exposure should provide additional warning to patients to limit their time spent roasting at the beach. Recent research confirms what many with common sense might have suspected, that time spent driving in the car is associated with an increased risk of skin cancer especially on the left side of the face. Researchers at St. Louis University found in more than half of the patient’s studied cancer developed on the left side of the face. Importantly, driving with the window up seemed to be associated with a lesser chance of the development of cancer.
Scientists have also made a recent association between sunshine exposure and lime juice. Termed “Gin and Tonic Dermatitis,” researchers have found that patients who expose their fingers to lime juice when drinking alcoholic beverages and then spend time in the sun are at risk for developing a photoirritant contact dermatitis. This type of skin disorder is characterized by painful sunburn-like redness or the development of small bubble-like lesions called bullae on the fingers which can blister. The reaction is not due to the lime juice but rather a chemical compound in the lime peel itself. Researchers have identified this same compound in older fragrances but newer perfumes do not have these chemicals.
Finally, while it is well established that sun exposure is an important way to get Vitamin D. Vitamin D is an important part of the body’s mechanism to promote strong bones and possibly prevent cancers from forming. Most physicians now feel that patients that would most benefit from supplemental Vitamin D would be best served by taking an oral form. This is because the risk of developing skin cancer from prolonged unprotected sun exposure probably outweighs the safety of taking a Vitamin D pill. You should especially talk to your doctor before you undergo artificial indoor tanning as a means of boosting your Vitamin D levels.