Mar 9, 2010

Beware of the silent, sunny killer

by Camille Smith

Snow and freezing winds plague students as they wait for spring break to arrive March 15. It is only a matter of time before many students will have their toes in the sand of a sunny beach, soaking up the rays and relaxing. Lurking behind those inviting sunny rays are ultraviolet (UV) rays that will do more harm than good as they soak into the skin causing, in some cases, irreversible damage.

Martinza I. Perez, MD, wrote on the differences between different types of UV rays in an article for

“The UVC rays have the shortest wavelength, the most energy and fortunately do not penetrate the atmosphere,” Perez writes. “UVB rays are the most potent … cause sunburn and lead to the development of skin cancers. UVA rays penetrate deepest into the skin.”

Perez cautions against time spent in direct sunlight without a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. She also suggests wearing protective clothing and using shelter during the midday, when in high altitudes and around reflective surfaces.

Licensed Esthetician and skin specialist Joellen Perkins shares Perez’s concerns.

“You don’t have to hide from the sun, but you do have to realize that we don’t have the same UV protection we have had in the past,” Perkins said. “The more the ozone is broken down, the less protection we will have.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains ozone depletion on its Web site, Ozone is a gas that occurs at ground level and in the upper atmosphere of Earth. While the ground level ozone is a harmful pollutant, stratosphere ozone protects Earth from the suns UV rays and is gradually depleting due to man-made chemicals. Without this layer of gas, Earth will be unprotected from the heat of the sun.

“There is no such thing as a healthy tan, but there are ways of going about it to be smart,” Perkins said. “Between the hours of 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. is the time you want to stay out of the sun.”

Perkins urges her clients to wear an SPF of at least 25, 30 for the face. When searching for the right sun protection, she suggests searching for ingredients such as titanium dioxide, avobenzone and zinc oxide, pure minerals that provide maximum protection.
“Understand that SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of the suns UV rays, SPF 30 blocks 97 percent and SPF 45 blocks about 98 percent,” Perkins said. “Also, any mineral in liquid form begins to break down and loose its effectiveness after about 90 minutes, you have to reapply.”

For many students, the damage is done before they step out into the sunlight. Tanning salons provide concentrated UV rays for tanning purposes all over the world, and many people take advantage of this to have a bronze look without spending hours in the sun.

“The difference between lying out in the sun and lying in a tanning bed is that it’s anywhere between 50 to 100 percent more UV radiation that you are taking in from a tanning bed,” Perkins said. “You are absorbing the Vitamin D that you get from sun light at such a high rate that it suppresses your immune system and you are putting yourself at risk for skin cancers.”

There are alternatives to tanning through any form of UV ray. Perkins suggests using self-tanning products to obtain a healthy natural glow.

“Self tanning products are a better alternative when it comes to tanning in tanning beds,” Perkins said. “They work by introducing dihydroxyacetone (DHA) to the cells in the top layer of the skin which causes a bronze reaction.”

While there are many variations of self-tanners, much like sunscreen, Perkins urges clients to look for a few ingredients. Sugar cane, aloe and raspberries are natural ingredients that insure a healthy bronze glow.

“Look at your skin as an investment,” Perkins said. “Don’t go and pick up the cheapest tanner that you can possibly find.”

More and more dermatologists are referring their patients who use tanning beds to salons that offer professional airbrush tanning services. Perkins’ Spa located at Sakinas, and Tournesol are two locations in Lynchburg that offer this service that, as an alternative to tanning, can save a life.

“You can have a tan all summer and no one knows you didn’t go into the sun,” Perkins said. “Except when you stand next to someone who did, your skin will just look better.”

Contact Camille Smith at

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