Sun could cause increased aging

Sara Purvis

‘Tis the season to play in the sun.

After the long, cold Iowa winter, nearly everyone wants to get rid of that pasty white skin — so they head for the outdoors, wearing as little clothing as possible in order to soak up those rays of sunlight.

Although those bikini-clad women and shirtless men may be merely wishing for a little healthy color in their skin, they may be getting much more.

Mary Selby, supervisor of nursing at ISU Student Health Services, said the most common effect of repeated exposure to the sun is increased aging. This is seen mostly in aging spots, lesions, wrinkles and a leathery look to the skin.

Selby said what makes these effects frightening is that it often is caused just by being outside in the sun — not deliberately tanning in a salon or outside.

More serious than a few extra age spots and wrinkles is the possibility of cancer, she said.

The American Cancer Society lists sun exposure as the major cause of skin cancer. 90 percent of skin cancer cases occur on the face, back, hands, shoulders, forearms, chests on men, lower legs on women and the tips of ears — the areas that are usually exposed to the sun, especially when one isn’t “tanning.”

It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that 480 new cases of melanoma will appear in Iowa this year.

Selby said the risk of skin cancer is greater in those who are more likely to burn when in the sun. Young children and infants, people with light skin and eyes and red or blonde hair are most at risk.

A sunburn can range from a light pink first-degree burn to a serious blistering second-degree burn. Selby said a second-degree burn is by far the most dangerous.

“A second-degree sunburn is just like the burn one gets if they were to put boiling water or boiling grease on their skin,” she said.

Skin cancer usually first appears as a mole-like spot. Danger signs include changes in the spot’s color, shape, size and bleeding.

Selby urges anyone who notices one of these danger signs to see a physician as soon as possible.

Many people attempt to beat the winter-white skin by tanning year round in salons.

Ranae Wilson, who works at the local tanning salon The Fifth Season, estimates that 100-150 people come in every day during the winter months to tan.

Wilson said tanning in a tanning bed is safer than tanning outside because the amount of exposure is controlled.

“Some of our low-pressure beds are UVB free, which means that it is a very slow tanning process and there are no UVB rays, which are the burn-causing rays,” Wilson said.

Selby agreed that salon tanning is safer in this respect but added that moderation is still very important.

“Tanning before a winter vacation to a sunny place is actually a good thing — if done in moderation, it can provide an amount of protection for a person’s skin,” Selby said.

Using sunscreen is also key to safe sun exposure, Selby said.

Sunscreens and sunblocks are rated with a Sun Protection Factor. The SPF is a measure of the amount of protection one receives from the sun. For example, an SPF 30 is 30 times more protection than one would naturally have.

Selby said the suggested minimum sunscreen is SPF 15, and this should be worn whenever one is in the sun.

Selby added that moderation in sun exposure is the key to avoiding skin damage.

“People spend more time outside and don’t realize the effect of doing so until later, when they are already burned,” she said.