Sun Exposure, Skin Cancer, and Other Sun Damage

UV induces unique types of p53 mutations in skin cancers

The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D is different for each person as it heavily depends on what is your skin type, what time of the day do you step out to soak in the sun and lastly where do you actually reside. Studies have shown that darker skinned people show fewer chances of contracting the illness as they have more melanin pigment in their skin cells - which helps protect the skin from damaging UV rays.

According to Honnavara N Ananthaswamy in his research paper "Several studies have shown that UV induces unique types of p53 mutations in skin cancers at a high frequency that are not commonly found in other types of human cancer. Analogous to human skin cancers, skin cancers induced in laboratory mice by UV radiation also display UV signature p53 mutations at a high frequency.  More interestingly, p53 mutations are also present in sun-exposed skin and it can serve as an indicator of prior solar exposure in humans. It has been shown that p53 mutations in mouse skin arise as early as one week of chronic UV-irradiation and the frequency of p53 mutations reach a maximum at 4–8 week of UV exposure. These results suggest that p53 mutations arise well before skin cancer development and that they can serve as a surrogate early biological endpoint in skin cancer prevention studies. In fact, it has been shown that application of SPF-15 sunscreens to mouse skin before each UV-irradiation protect mice against induction of p53 mutations as well as skin cancer development".

However, the bone of contention here is, whether the main source of vitamin D – the sun, can be trusted to be safe as it is also one of the main causes of skin cancers of late!

So, when to expose and when to shy away from the sun?          
The UV exposure varies depending on the time of day but is highest between 10 am and 3 pm. A simple guide has been developed to help indicate when UV exposure might be high, called Holloway's rule, which states that when shadows are shorter than objects casting them, sunburn is much more likely than at other times.

However, if you happen to step out at that hour be sure to pack yourself with some protective gear and an effective sunscreen. The more skin that's covered by your clothing, the better the protection you're getting. Look for materials with a close weave, as they will block out the most UV rays. Hats are great for protecting the face, eyes, and head. However, if you cover your face with a scarf, a pair of glares and use an umbrella; it can provide the same level of protection.

Now it is highly recommended to invest in a good sunscreen especially for protecting the parts of skin we can’t shade or cover. Sunscreen with Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 is recommended.

Wear it the right way. To achieve maximum protection it is important that it is applied correctly too. Here are some tips to keep in mind while gearing oneself with sunscreen.

Ensure you apply enough sunscreen on, often people apply much less than they need to, to get the full protection. As a guide, one should use around 2 teaspoonfuls of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arm, and neck. Around 2 tablespoonfuls if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume.

Reapply sunscreen regularly helps avoid missing bits of skin.

Use sunscreen along with shade and clothing to avoiding getting caught out by sunburn. And note that it has to be applied when the skin is dry.
Nevertheless remember that the sunscreens that claim to be 'water resistant' or 'waterproof' also have to be reapplied after going in the water.

Store your sunscreens in a cool and dry place to ensure that the protective chemicals aren't ruined. Don't use expired sunscreen. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years.

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