Sunscreens May Improve, But Shade Your Kids
Shade your kids. Strong new evidence suggests overall sun exposure in
childhood, not just burns, is a big key to who later develops deadly skin
cancer. The news comes as the government is finishing long-awaited rules to
The Food and Drug Administration wants sunscreens to be rated not just for
how well they block the ultraviolet-B rays that cause sunburn A- today's
SPF rankings A- but for how well they protect against deeper-penetrating
ultraviolet-A rays that are linked to cancer and wrinkles.
The proposed rules are undergoing a final review and should be issued in
weeks, FDA policy director Jeff Shuren told The Associated Press. Still,
sunscreen bottles won't look different any time soon: The proposal will be
followed by a public comment period before going into effect.
New research into how the sun and genetics interact points to a possibly
more important step consumers can take now to shield their children, and
themselves: Check the weather forecast for the day's "UV index" in your
town, to learn when to stay indoors or in the shade.
Why? Where you live, not the every-so-often beach vacation, determines most
of your UV exposure A- that lunchtime stroll, children's school recess or
ball practice. UVA can even penetrate window glass. UV levels vary from
state to state, even day to day, because of things like altitude, cloud
cover and ozone.
"Sunscreen is imperfect," warns Dr. Nancy Thomas, a dermatologist at the
University of North Carolina who led the UV research. "Schedule activities
when UV irradiation is not quite so high."
Melanoma is the most lethal skin cancer. It will strike almost 60,000
Americans this year, and kill some 8,100. Cases have been on the rise for
three decades, and while it usually strikes in the 40s or 50s, doctors are
seeing ever-younger cases, occasionally even in children.
Scientists are studying the interaction of genes and UV exposure in
melanoma patients in the U.S. and Australia A- and initial results suggest
staying in the shade in early life is even more important than previously
Thomas analyzed tumor genes from 214 melanoma patients now living in North
Carolina. Colleagues at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in
Boulder, Colo., used satellite data to track average UV radiation A-
encompassing both UVA and UVB rays A- in the different towns and states
where those patients had lived at birth, age 10, age 20 and so on.
The result: Patients with the most common known melanoma mutations, called
BRAF mutations, also had the highest UV exposure by age 20. Interestingly,
they also had the most moles, another important melanoma risk factor.
What does that mean? It's not clear yet, but young, rapidly growing skin
may be particularly vulnerable to damaging UV rays, especially as moles are
developing, Thomas says. Or maybe early childhood sun exposure spurs moles
to develop in the first place.
While sun exposure for young adults played some role, too, the association
with BRAF disappeared at age 30. < /font>
But that isn't a license for adults to sunbathe: Another melanoma subtype,
characterized by mutations in a gene called NRAS, is strongly linked to UV
exposure by age 50, the study found.
Here's the problem: Until recently, sunscreens have filtered out mostly UVB
rays that cause sunburns, not UVA rays, meaning people who depended only on
sunscreen to prevent skin cancer may have gotten a false sense of security.
Today, many sunscreens promise "broad-spectrum" protection against UVA
rays, too. But the government doesn't yet have testing requirements in
place to prove that UVA protection.
The term broad-spectrum "means nothing. Anybody can make that claim," says
a frustrated Dr. Darrell Rigel of New York University, a past president of
the American Academy of Dermatology, which has long pushed to change that.
The soon-to-come FDA proposal will keep the SPF, or "sun protection
factor," ratings on sunscreen bottles that refer only to UVB protection A-
but add a UVA rating, too, says Shuren.
Until then, dermatologist Rigel has some advice:
Use enough sunscreen. An adult needs the equivalent of a full shot glass,
and a young child a good tablespoon-full. Most people put on too thin a
coat to get good UVB coverage, much less whatever UVA protection a brand
While official recommendations say wear at least an SPF-15 sunscreen daily,
a super-high SPF will counter some of the thin-coat problem.
Apply sunscreen a half-hour before going outside. It takes that long to
And limit exposure during the peak UV hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE A- Lauran Neergaard covers health and medical issues for The
Associated Press in Washington. June 11, 2007 02:57:00 PM PST
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