How Sunscreens Slay Skin Cancer

Go to any dermatologist and skincare expert and they'll tell you what the greatest skincare sin is - not putting sunscreen. You thought maths was important but sunscreen is just as important. Maybe even more! But why? What is all this hue and cry about this greasy weird product? Why is it so important? Well, let's go through all the details!

Why You Should Care About Sunscreen

In our childhood days, our grandparents and even parents would always coax us to wear sunscreen before we went out to play. Their reason was so that we don't tan and become 'darker' (our obsession with fair skin is truly one of the worst things!). But the real reason why you should actually put on sunscreen is that it helps prevent skin cancer. There's also the fact that the sun causes ageing! Sunscreen helps prevent all those dark spots, wrinkles and sagging skin! Ask any skincare expert and they will tell you this - the best anti-ageing is sunscreen. All those retinols and vitamin C serums are actually reversing the damage you did to your skin when you were young, reckless and without sunscreen. So be diligent! 

 

How Does Sunscreen Help with Skin Cancer?

The main reason people advocate wearing sunscreen is to prevent skin cancer. Regular daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40 percent, and lower your melanoma risk by 50 percent. Your head might be swimming reading all these fancy terms but not to worry. Let's talk about SCC and melanoma.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

If we're talking broadly, SCC covers multiple cancers such as those of the skin, lung, thyroid, oesophageal and vaginal. Squamous cells actually form the upper layer of the skin and the linings of hollow organs of the body and respiratory and digestive tracts. Cancer affecting these cells is referred to as Squamous Cell Carcinoma or SCC. Cutaneous SCC is a skin cancer. 

Cutaneous SCC is characterized by abnormal accelerated growth of the squamous cells when DNA damage from ultraviolet radiation or other damaging agents occurs.

Best way to protect yourself from this? Sunscreen! If you're spending time outdoors, or even if you're staying in with the curtains pulled away, always apply sunscreen and reapply every 2-3 hours! 

Melanoma

You may have heard of this one before. Melanoma is a rather aggressive type of skin cancer. It occurs in cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes are cells found in the upper layers of the skin. They're responsible for producing a pigment called melanin that gives colour to the skin.

On exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, or from tanning beds for that matter, the skin damage triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin. What happens is that only the eumelanin pigment attempts to protect the skin by darkening or tanning it. In melanoma, cell production goes out of control. 

Now you might be wondering what eumelanin is? Well, bear with me. So there are two types of melanin - eumelanin and pheomelanin. Fair-skinned people have more of the latter and darker-skinned people have more of the former. Eumelanin actually helps protect the skin but pheomelanin does not. That's why fair-skinned people are more at risk in comparison to their duskier counterparts. But it doesn't matter what the colour of your skin is, just because you might be at a lower risk doesn't mean you're completely safe! So sunscreen is a must! 


The A, B and C of UV

When you're shopping for a sunscreen, you may have seen the packaging talk about UVA and UVB protection. But what are these and how are these two different? So, ultraviolet radiation has been split into three categories. In the electromagnetic spectrum, UV or ultraviolet rays are the shorter than visible light. So you can't see them but the skin feels them. The shorter the UV rays, the more harmful they are. 

UVA

UVA rays are primarily associated with ageing. Remember it this way - A for ageing. UVA rays are also linked to that 'broad spectrum protection' label you see on sunscreens. These rays are also responsible for tanning and penetrate deeper layers of your skin. UVA rays may have a comparatively long wavelength but don't take them lightly. 

 For a long time, people thought UVA rays aren't particularly harmful (which is why traditional chemical sunscreens are better at blocking UVB rays than UVA rays) but now we know that they do cause skin cancer. Exposure to UVA rays causes genetic damage to deeper layers of the skin. These rays can also penetrate windows and cloud cover (this is why you should put sunscreen even when it's cloudy!). Also, did you know that there are approximately 500 times more UVA rays in sunlight than UVB rays!

UVB

After A comes B! UVB rays are of a medium wavelength and are responsible for those nasty sunburns you get. They're also largely responsible for melanoma! These do cause the skin to age faster but not as much as UVA rays. Unlike UVA rays, UVB rays do not penetrate deeply into the skin and can't get past windows either. The intensity of these rays also fluctuates during the day. The highest risk is from late-morning to mid-afternoon ( can extend to wider time frames in tropical climates).

UVC

People don't talk a lot about UVC rays and that's because, while they may be the shortest wavelength and the most damaging, they're filtered out by the atmosphere and do not reach us. Phew!


So now you know the basics of why you want to apply sunscreen. So don't skip this product no matter what!