New laws and updated cautions about sun tanning

By Matt Schickling
Wire Staff Writer

“Always wear sunscreen” has been the mantra of mothers and physicians since the sun began to shine, but beyond that, few people know the implications of protecting their skin.

“The misconception is that tanning is good and sunburn is bad,” said Dr. Katherine Evans, dermatologist at Pennsylvania Dermatology Group in Huntingdon Valley. “But it’s not good to get either. You should try to stay as close to your natural color as possible.”

Over the years, frequent, unprotected exposure to the sun can bring about health and skin issues as harmless as freckles and as serious as skin cancer. The importance of skin care is even drawing attention from the political realm, especially in regard to indoor tanning, but the best method of prevention is to consult your doctor.

Evans generally recommends “sun-avoidance” to her patients, which means straying from direct sunlight during the intense midday hours from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. This does not mean avoiding the sun altogether, but rather seeking shade or wearing protective clothing as much as possible. And, of course, applying sunscreen generously.

“Sunscreen can only do so much — you can’t just sit outside and bake in the sun all day,” Evans said.

However, if out in the heat, she does advise using sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 and as high as 50, with frequent reapplication. Sun protection factor (SPF) has traditionally been the standard at which the effectiveness of sunscreen is determined by consumers, but there are other factors to consider.

“The companies are getting higher and higher in their numbers, but you can’t exponentially increase sun protection,” Evans said. “On some of the older sunscreens, the SPF advertised tells you what the UVB protection is, but not the UVA. It’s better to look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen.”

UVB rays are classically known to cause sunburn as they focus more directly on the outermost layers of skin. UVA rays are more prevalent. They make up the majority of ultraviolet radiation reaching the earth’s surface, about 95 percent of it.

While not as responsible for giving the skin color, UVA rays can have equally harmful effects to skin as they penetrate the deeper layers. In fact, too much exposure to UVA rays is known to contribute to aging, wrinkles and skin cancer, which can even be fatal.

A broad-spectrum sunscreen is viewed as the best protection because it will protect against both. This goes for people of all ages and complexions.

“I think it’s important for people of all skin types to wear sunscreen,” Evans said. “Someone that’s very, very dark is at a lower risk of skin cancer, but they’re still at risk.”

Other preventative measures include wearing protective clothing, like wide-brimmed hats and rash-guard, a type of clothing made of spandex and nylon or polyester that is designed to protect from the sun.

Items like beach umbrellas have an effect, but sunscreen should still be worn as sunlight is reflected by sandy beaches and water.

In general, if possible, it is best to avoid overexposure to the sun. Other than aloe, which provides a cooling sensation, but will not prevent damage, there are hardly any effective home remedies for sunburn.

“Avoiding it in the first place is key,” Evans said.

But if there’s one place to do the opposite of that, it’s at a tanning salon. And, while tanning may seem like a quick way to get a summer skin tone, it’s also a faster path to the problems associated with sun exposure.

Indoor tanning has the same or intensified effects of long-term exposure to the sun, which can bring about health problems in the long run. And, political action was recently taken against indoor tanning in Pennsylvania.

On May 6, Gov. Tom Corbett signed a new law banning indoor tanning for minors under the age of 17 and requiring parental consent for 17-year-old minors.

The law also requires that warning signs be posted at tanning facilities and customers sign a written warning statement prior to tanning. The law was supported by state Rep. Tom Murt and state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Frank Farry, who represents part of Lower Bucks County, sponsored the bill.

“Cancer is a diagnosis that no one wants to hear, but more and more young adults are putting themselves at great risk for developing the deadliest type of skin cancer, and all for superficial benefits,” Farry said. “We are concerned many teens and their parents do not fully understand the deadly consequences that can come with indoor tanning.”