I am always intrigued that even now in 2018 there is a belief by many people, that tanned skin is healthy and it actually protects you from getting skin cancer. Also, there is a Facebook article circulating again that promotes the theory that sunscreen causes skin cancer in people and that the sun does not. As an Australian Registered Nurse who has had firsthand experience in caring for people with burns plus a strong family history of skin cancer, I feel the need to call out this scaremongering and put the common sense back into the discussion.
Does Sunburn Cause Skin Cancer?
Elizabeth Plourde, author of Sunscreens Biohazard, will have you believe that sunscreens are contributing factors in humans in developing skin cancer, not the sun’s Ultraviolet radiation. Plus she will purport that the run off from the sunscreens are causing the fish and coral reefs to die, not the increase in water temperature.
As an Aussie, I am as concerned about the conservation of marine life and especially our very own wonder of the natural world, The Great Barrier Reef. After many studies, scientists have concluded that the increase in under water marine temperatures caused by the combination of climate change and the El Niño cycle in 2016 was the explanation for coral bleaching at the Great Barrier Reef.
Also, humans are not the only species to get skin cancer. Dogs, cats, pigs, hippos, warthogs and elephants are also prone to the three main types of skin cancer caused by UV radiation. Furthermore, dolphins and whales have been discovered with melanoma skin lesions. I don’t know anyone who lathers their dog or cat with sunscreen, which supports there must be an alternative cause.
Have a look at this 2012 published study Evidence of Melanoma in Wild Marine Populations by Dr Michael Sweet. By chance, Dr Sweet came across a group of wild trout living off the Eastern Coast of Australia which were found with black lesions. He later analysed these black lesions and discovered they were actually Melanoma tumours. Comparisons were made with a previous study of a sample of laboratory fish that were also exposed to UV radiation. These fish too developed melanoma. The conclusion was: “As the sampled fish were collected offshore in a marine protected area with no reports of pollution, the likelihood of potential carcinogenic pollutants being the causal factor is low, at least in this reported case. UV radiation, in comparison, is known to be a causal factor in skin damage in many animals and therefore is a likely driving factor of prevalence of melanoma”.
Basically, any living creature with a sparse amount of hair can be at risk of skin cancer if exposed to the sunlight’s UV radiation.
Over my next few blogs, I’m going to help you all gain a better understanding of our skin and how to protect it from skin cancer.
Skin Anatomy 101
A lessen straight out of my Human Anatomy and Physiology book would seem rather boring, but honestly, if you understand a little about your skin and how skin cancer develops, then you are more likely to make an effort to protect yourself.
Let’s start with the basics: the skin is made up of two distinct regions called the epidermis and dermis. Underneath these two layers is the hypodermis, which is the connective tissue that connects to the organs below.
The epidermis is the top layer that we can see and feel and is made up of many cells including the keratinocytes: basal and squamous cells which produce keratin that gives the epidermis a protective layer. We constantly manufacture basal and squamous cells as the total epidermis is replaced every 35-45 days. Melanocytes also exist in the epidermis layer to produce the pigment melanin, which functions to protect the keratinocytes and dermis layer from UV radiation in sunlight.
Three Main Types of Skin Cancer
An easy way to understand the types of skin cancer is to understand that they are named after the cell in the skin that is affected.
The leading cause of skin cancer is Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC) as it affects the basal cells, causing them to grow and extend into the dermis and subcutaneous layers below and create lesions. The BCC usually appears on sun exposed skin (face) and appears as shiny, raised areas that later develop a central ulcer with a “pearly” beaded edge. A full surgical excision is the rule in 99% of cases and metastasis seldom occurs as it is slow growing. I’ve had many family members have Basal Cell Carcinomas (BCC) removed from their noses, ears and arms.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC) is also another sun induced cancer that appears as a scaly reddened papule that tends to grow rapidly and can metastasize to adjacent lymph nodes if not removed. You want to catch this one early for surgical removal and/or radiation therapy. Tragically I have lost a grand-parent to the second most common cancer Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC), despite having surgery and radiation therapy.
Malignant Melanoma is a deadly cancer of the Melanocytes. A melanoma can appear wherever there is pigment such as found in moles or freckles. Usually found on sun exposed skin but can randomly appear elsewhere on the body. It usually appears as a brown to black patch that metastasizes rapidly to surrounding lymph and blood vessels. The usual therapy for malignant melanoma is wide surgical excision and chemotherapy.
What Happens When We Tan Our Skin?
Who ever started this belief that tanned skin represents health and beauty should be slapped! Tanning our skin from the sun or artifical light from sunbeds is effectively causing damage to our skin. When we are exposed to UV radiation, our melanocytes produce melanin to come to the surface and pile up on top of the other cells to form a layer of protection. Picture a red haired child with freckles!! This is the melanin at work!
The body rallies itself to the UV exposed skin cells and sets off an immune response to repair itself. If you think a base line tan actually protects you from burning, think again. The sun factor protection (SPF) would be around 2 or 3 but the photo aging is permanent.
We love to receive comments on all our blogs, plus if you have any questions, we would really like to hear from you!
Stay up to date with all the best offers
Join our newsletter to learn more tips and tricks to protect your skin whilst surfing and the products we recommend that work!