Everyone is familiar with the SPF system which rates the level of UVB or sunburn protection; however, people remain unfamiliar with the dangers posed by UVA rays.  They are responsible for solar aging and the majority of sun induced melanomas.

The process of solar aging involves chronic long-term exposure to micro-doses of UVA light. UVA exposure produces damage over years, by inducing a multitude of tiny “scars”; in which one, etched over another, over time cause the visible wrinkle.

Ninety percent of the skin in composed of the thick, tough collagen which lies directly beneath the surface epidermis. It is the interaction of UVA rays on the collagen that leads to aged skin. One would expect tough collagen to be unaffected directly by the low energy UVA rays. However, studies conducted by dermatologist Dr. John Voorhees, discovered that UVA rays alter the way new collagen is laid down and old collagen is broken down. Specifically Voorhees determined that exposure to UVA rays turns on genes resulting in the production of enzymes that promote collagen breakdown, while at the same time turning on different genes that inhibit new collagen formation. The result is that one damages collagen each and every time one is exposed to UVA rays. One can see the cumulative effect of this damage in U.S. truckers versus English truckers. The U.S. truckers have more pronounced solar aging on the left side of the face versus the right side for the English who drive on the other side of the road.

Even more worrisome than solar aging it the fact that UVA exposure is now strongly linked to sun induced melanoma. Long wavelength UVA rays interact with melanin containing melanocytes producing oxidative byproducts which lead to melanoma induction.  It is possible to wear a sunscreen that has great UVB or sunburn protection, but little in the way of long wavelength (greater than 350nm) UVA protection.

This will allow someone to stay out in the sun for hours without getting burned, but all the timecooking” themselves with melanoma inducing UVA rays. Perhaps it is no coincident that the incidence of melanoma has exploded at the same time there has been ever more pervasive sunscreen use.

The key is to know a product’s Critical Wavelength® value. This value tells a consumer how far out a sunscreen’s protective umbrella extends across the UVB/UVA spectrum.  This rating system has recently been adopted by the U.S. FDA as the standard for making any broad spectrum, anti-aging, or skin cancer prevention claim. It is important to know this value.

So what does all this mean to golfers, or anyone spending long hours enjoying the outdoors? Well if you don’t want your face to look like a worn out saddle, get proactive:

1. Use not just a high SPF sunscreen (SPF 15 or higher), but one with a known level of UVA protection. Critical Wavelength® is the gold standard rating the level of UVA protection. This Critical Wavelength® value needs to be over 370nm. All LUCA Sunscreen products display a Critical Wavelength® value.

2. Apply sunscreen to dry skin before going outside. Application to wet or sweaty skin markedly reduces effectiveness.

3. Use sun protective clothing, broad brimmed hats and shirts.

4. Reapply sunscreen every two hours to dry skin. Most people apply less than half of that is recommended.

5. Use common sense and avoid direct sun exposure when practical. UVB rays or sunburning rays are most intense in the midday, during the summertime, but UVA rays remain constant all day and all year long. The incidence of skin cancers including deadly melanoma is increasing at epidemic proportions but being proactive, particularly at a young age might just save your life, and keep you looking younger longer.

– Karl Gruber M.D.

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