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How Effective is Sunscreen in Preventing Skin Cancer

When it comes to sunscreen, there are a lot of products out there, and they can be confusing. So we put together this guide — with help from the Skin Cancer Foundation — to arm you with reliable information about sun safety and sunscreens.

It’s important to protect your skin whenever you are outside because of the risk of skin cancer. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanomas are associated with exposure to UV radiation from the sun. One of the best ways to protect your skin is to apply sunscreen. Do you know which is right for you? 

When it comes to UV rays, there are two kinds: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). They’re both dangerous to your skin, but in different ways—and it’s important to understand the differences.

Why should you be wearing sunscreen?

Here’s the deal. It’s all about ultraviolet rays, part of the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches us from the sun. Humans can’t see ultraviolet (UV) rays, but they’re there and do a lot of damage.

Ultraviolet A (UVA) is the longer wave UV ray and does more damage than UVB rays because they can penetrate deeper into the skin and affect the DNA of the cells. UVA attacks cell membranes and changes the proteins in the cells. When this happens, changes occur to the collagen and elastin levels in the skin, leading to wrinkles and sagging. In addition, changes to the make-up of the skin’s cellular structure cause damage to the blood vessels. On your skin, the result is constant redness or what is often called “spider veins,” those red or purple clusters of tiny bloodlines around the nose, cheeks and/or on the chin.

Ultraviolet B (UVB) is the shorter wave UV ray and is absorbed by the outermost layer of the skin (the epidermis). Too much exposure to these rays cause the epidermis to produce chemicals called inflammatory mediators. These chemicals can seep down beneath the outer layer of the skin into the middle layer (the dermis) and inflame the blood vessels, which then swell and turn the outer layer of the skin red.

The UVB rays also affect the skin’s genetic material, and this damage can lead to skin cancer. UVB rays are also known to impact the immune system, interfering with the skin’s ability to heal itself.

The sun can be a real bummer. It can give you bad skin and even cause skin cancer. Who needs that?

But there’s good news! There are a couple of ways to get around this. One way is to avoid the sun altogether, but we all know that’s not realistic (not to mention sad!) The other way is to wear sunscreen.

Sunscreens are products combining several ingredients that help prevent the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation from reaching the skin.

SPF – or Sun Protection Factor – measures a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB from damaging the skin. Here’s how it works: If it takes 20 minutes for your unprotected skin to start turning red, using an SPF 15 sunscreen theoretically prevents reddening 15 times longer – about five hours. Most sunscreens with an SPF of 15 or higher do an excellent job protecting against UVB.

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