For many cancers the exact cause remains a mystery.. But not skin cancer. We know that UV rays are the primary causative agents behind skin cancers, wrinkles, sunburn, premature ageing, and a host of other skin-health related conditions.
Statistically, about 95% of skin cancers are totally preventable. Nonetheless, there’s an increasing prevalence of skin cancer in Australia (and even globally) today.
When we know better, we do better, that’s exactly why we asked Sam Sheehan of Suncayr about UV rays and how we can better protect our skin.
Sam Sheehan is the Managing Director of Suncayr Australia– a company dedicated to giving “you the UV awareness that you need to safely enjoy every day you spend outside.” Here, are snippets of wisdom he shared in his interview with us… including how Suncayr is helping to simplify sun safety.
What is UV
UV rays or Ultraviolet rays are the radiation from the sun. Sam said, “exposure or overexposure to UV radiation is a major risk factor for nearly all skin cancers”. Unfortunately, UV rays are inescapable. Since they penetrate windows, you’d have to be indoors, in a windowless room, 24/7 to completely avoid them. This, of course, isn’t feasible.
There are three types of UV;
UVA rays. Termed “ageing rays” these are the rays that cause long-term skin damage by breaking down collagen fibres and lead to premature ageing.
UVB rays. Also known as “burning rays”, these rays are the culprit of sunburn and are the main cause of most forms of skin cancer. The strength of UVB rays varies at different times throughout the year.
UVC rays. These are the most harmful of all 3 forms of UV rays. Thanks to Earth’s ozone layer, they don’t reach us. And that, dear earthling, is why we need to protect our ozone!
How sunscreens work
Sunscreens protect us from the damaging effects of the sun. Although they’ve been so-called a second line of defence, they remain a critically important line of defence. Sunscreens are chemically composed of organic compounds and inorganic compounds as two of its main base ingredients.
The inorganic compounds— typically Zinc oxide or Titanium oxide, reflect UV rays away from the body. On the other hand, the organic compounds— usually avobenzone or oxybenzone— absorbs the UV rays by bonding chemically with UV rays. Consequently, the intermolecular attraction in the sunscreen is broken down. This is why skin specialists advise that you reapply sunscreen frequently—depending upon the activity being carried out and the length of your exposure to the sun.
No sunscreen can protect from 100% of UV rays
It’s important to keep in mind that sunscreens aren’t foolproof. According to the Mayo Clinic, there isn’t one sunscreen that blocks 100% of UV rays. So our concept of UV protection must go beyond applying sunscreen. Staying in the shade, wearing hats, sunglasses, and clothing that fully cover our skin—all of these acts make us less vulnerable.
The right amount of sunscreen, not just sunscreen, is essential for adequate protection.
Have you ever used sunscreen and still become sunburnt? It has happened to many of us and it’s likely that our sun protection was not adequate and that sunscreen was not used properly. “…there’s a lot of clinical data out there in studies that show an average consumers use an average of 25% of what they should actually be using to attain the SPF cover that’s advertised on the bottle”, says Sam.
Sunscreen does work! You’ve just got to apply (and reapply, when necessary) sufficient amounts of it. So how much do we need? Approximately 6 teaspoons for adequate coverage! In all, keep this in mind; “you’re better off using an SPF 15 properly, than using a quarter of what you would with an SPF 50”, Sam said.
SPOTMYUVTM is helping eliminate guesswork of applying & reapplying sunscreen
SPOTMYUVTM is a novel UV detection sticker by Suncayr. Upon absorbing UV, sunscreen wears away until it’s no longer effective at protecting your skin against harmful UVs, which is why reapplication is so important. The challenge is you’ll never really know when your sunscreen is still working due to the many variables such as sweat, friction of clothes and degradation of active ingredients.
Thanks to SPOTMYUVTM, you can know just the time to reapply sunscreen! SPOTMYUVTM is an indicating sticker that reminds you when it’s time to reapply UV protection.
The small round sticker starts purple coloured. After you’ve stuck it to an area of your body that is exposed to the sun and you’ve applied sunscreen, it turns clear, indicating that you’re protected. As the sunscreen wears, it shows varying shades of purple again, telling you “it’s sunscreen reapplication time!” They’re perfect for kids and they are even water-resistant. You can learn more about how it works here.
With deliberateness and helpful innovative products like SPOTMYUVTM, we can get the sun protection that we really need, bring skin cancer cases to the barest minimum and liver healthier, fuller, and richer lives. Let’s do that! (winks)
Lasers are useful across a variety of aesthetic and even cancer treatments. But having laser treatments without first getting a skin check poses a huge health threat: delayed diagnosis of skin cancer.
Surely, you don’t want to get a laser treatment if it means running the risk of having skin cancer and not know it.
This is the point where you remind yourself that you can’t eat your cake and have it. But what if you could do the seemingly impossible— eat your cake and have it?
In our interview with Fiona Moss, a seasoned dermal clinician and University supervisor, she shared with us just what you need to do to eat this cake and have it. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Keep reading.
Understanding the Problem
To diagnose skin cancer, dermascopists use the dermatoscope to see deeper into the skin and inspect lesions. It’s the melanin and oxyhemoglobin structure of these lesions that give a clue on whether a lesion is benign or malignant. Unfortunately, when, for instance, you’re having a hair removal or skin rejuvenation done at your local laser clinic, the therapist is going to be targeting melanin and oxyhemoglobin.
Treating over lesions this way causes the usual structure to be disrupted. When your lesions are examined the results seen are no longer an accurate representation of what that lesion might be doing.
Bear in mind that not all lesions are cancerous. Treat over a non-cancerous lesion, no problem. But treat over a possibly malignant one and you’ve just buried a life-threatening problem. As such, the real task is to determine whether a lesion is or isn’t cancerous. And the easiest time to do that is before you’ve had lasers done.
The way out
An expert therapist knows to not treat over certain lesions, sometimes only after naked-eye inspection. He knows that doing so may be problematic in the long run. But you see not every laser therapist is an expert.
Particularly in Australia, there are practically no regulations on who can or can’t do a laser treatment. Most therapists are, therefore, focused on helping you take out pigmentation and get you those short term results that you want. And they often do that without even understanding the underlying risks.
If you want to get a laser treatment, you’re better off going to a medical clinic or a skin cancer clinic that’s specialized in treating cancers with lasers. Because of their experience and knowledge, they’ll know which lesions to cover and not to treat over. They’re also likely to encourage you to get a skin check before getting laser treatment.
You’re safer surrendering your body to a practitioner who has a nationally recognised certification than using a “highly trained” practitioner whose laser clinic is located at some corner 2 blocks away from your home.
With the perfect practitioner, there would usually be some initial consultation involved in the process of getting a laser. They would enquire about your medical history or inquiring to ensure that it would be safe for your health. They wouldn’t be focused solely on getting you to do the procedure right out the gate. If that isn’t the case, then that practitioner is after your money—their financial gains.
If a therapist doesn’t show professional concern or your overall health, that’s not the kind of therapist you want treating you.
The real hazard isn’t lasers themselves. Fiona agrees that lasers are incredible on the skin. Remove your freckles if you want to. Just do it the right way. And the right way is to put yourself in good hands—the hands of a highly qualified professional. And perhaps, to have your skin checked before getting lasers done.
Most people believe that melanoma is the only type of skin cancer, and we understand why. Melanoma is very popular, mostly because it’s the deadliest of all skin cancers. In reality, there are 3 skin cancer types and melanoma is the rarest of them all.
With melanoma or any other kind of skin cancer, the sun has been found to play a huge role. When we say the sun, we mean the UVA and UVB radiations which emanate from the sun. But it’s not the sun alone that releases these deadly rays.
“Other artificial sources such as solariums and sunbeds also radiate the UVR and people who have used a solarium have a greatly increased risk for skin cancer” explains Jane Homberger, a registered nurse and the founder of Skin Smart Australia.
What’s the Difference Between UVA and UVB Rays?
While both are harmful and should be avoided at all costs, Ultraviolet Ray A (UVA) and Ultraviolet Ray B (UVB) are not the same. The “UVA rays can penetrate deeply into the dermis” Jane says. In other words, they have a longer length of ray and are mostly responsible for skin ageing. UVB is shorter. But, it’s also fully capable of causing harm to the superficial layers of the skin.
Types of Skin Cancer
This is the most common of all skin cancer types, but thankfully, it is the least deadly. BCC is mainly caused by UV radiation from sun exposure. Little wonder why this skin cancer mostly affects areas such as the chest, face, shoulders, and back—they’re the most exposed to the sun.
This cancer type often manifests either as a flat pink scaly area or a raised pink pearly nodules. It also tends to not spread past the singular affected area. However, it does eat deep into the affected spot and can cause serious damage if not treated fast.
Like Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC for short) tends to also settle on sun-exposed areas of the body. However, it is characterized by a painful scaly lesion and can spread across various parts of the body. This is why treating this cancer as early as possible is key.
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. Because it spreads so rapidly, it is very difficult to treat. Melanoma evolves from the cell that produces melanin— the pigment that gives our skin its colour. Jane states that “melanoma rises in an existing mole, or it can grow as a new lesion. Just because a person had had a mole all their life doesn’t mean it can’t become melanoma when they’re adults”. Contrary to popular belief, melanoma can affect anyone at any age. Unlike BCC and SCC, it can grow on any part of the body, irrespective of whether or not the area is constantly exposed to the sun.
Factors that Determine Survival from Skin Cancer
- Early Diagnosis. The earlier the cancer is diagnosed and treated, the better.
- Genetic predisposition
- Specific Cancer Diagnosis.
The risk of skin cancer seems to be on the increase, especially in people under the age of 40. Knowing the warning signs of skin cancer can help ensure that cancerous changes are detected and treated before cancer manages to spread. It all starts with being aware of any change in your skin including hidden areas like your toes and scalp. Pay extra attention to your moles and seek medical attention the minute you notice an abnormality.
Why do you wear sunglasses? To cut down on glare when you’re driving? To keep you from squinting outdoors? To look cool?
These are all good reasons to wear your shades, but your sunglasses are more than a fashion statement. If you spend time outdoors, you can be at risk for eye problems from UV rays and should always wear sunglasses.
But they need to be the right sunglasses.
It’s not just our skin that needs sun protection, the cornea of our eye is also at risk of UV damage. Prolonged sun exposure has been linked with increased rates of cataracts and non-melanoma skin cancer of the eye and eyelid.
No one is immune to the effects of UV radiation, but certain groups have a higher risk of eye damage from UV rays. These include people who have light-coloured blue or green eyes; people with a preexisting eye disease like retinal dystrophy or macular degeneration; people who have had cataract surgery; and those who take medication that makes their body more sensitive to light.
So how do you protect your lids?
In Australia, all sunglasses must meet a certain standard and will fall into a lens category based on their UV protection measures.
The lens category provides a rating between 0-4.
Lens category 0: Light tint sunglasses or fashion spectacles These provide very limited reduction of sun glare and some UV protection.
Lens category 1: Light tint sunglasses or fashion spectacles These provide limited protection against sun glare and some UV protection; they are not suitable for driving in at night or under dull light conditions.
Lens category 2: General purpose sunglasses These provide good protection against sun glare and good UV protection; they are suitable for driving in at night or under dull light conditions.
Lens category 3: General purpose sunglasses These provide high protection against sun glare and good UV protection; they are not suitable for driving at night or under dull light conditions.
Lens category 4: Very dark special sunglasses – very high sun glare reduction for extreme conditions and good UV protection, they are not suitable for driving
Additional tips for choosing sunglasses:
– Bigger is better⠀
– Consider sunglasses that wrap around to protect from peripheral damage⠀
– Coloured lens does not provide additional protection⠀
– Fashion glasses do not protect the eyes from glare OR UV.
UV rays pass through clouds, so don’t be fooled into thinking protective eyewear isn’t necessary when the sky is cloudy. Even though shaded areas reduce UV exposure, your eyes can still be exposed to rays that bounce from buildings, roads and other surfaces.
So whenever you’re outdoors, it makes sense to keep your eyes—and your family’s eyes—protected with a pair of good sunglasses.
Did you know that not all UV light is blocked by sunscreen.
For example, “a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 protects against about 93% of UVB rays and one with an SPF of 30 protects against 97% of rays according to the Mayo Clinic. No SPF actually blocks 100% of UV rays and any sort of UV rays begins [the skin] damage process so it’s important also to to supplement your sunscreen use with trying to avoid direct sunlight.” These are the words of Sam Sheehan of SpotmyUV, we sat down with Sam in episode 8 of the ‘heal thy skin’ podcast and spoke about UV rays, types of sunscreen and a skin mimicking sticker that is raising the awareness of keeping safe in the sun.
In the US they’ve even got some sunscreens that are being advertised as a 100 SPF, which really doesn’t really convey the right message as sun screen just simply can’t protect us from 100% of the UV rays.
There is a common public misconception that the difference between SPF 15 and 30 is double the protection when really it’s just a few percent.
There are two main types of sunscreen
Those that contain minerals such as zinc oxide, or titanium oxide act as a physical block and are also known as physical sunscreens. They work by reflecting the UV rays similar to how white paint reflects light. Physical sunscreen is affiliated with the white colored noses on beachgoers through the 80s and 90s. Many modern sunscreens contain mineral elements but the manufacturing processes have changed and the manufacturers make the inorganic particles much smaller now so they appear to soak in or not have the same white zinc effect that they used to.
Chemical sunscreens on the other hand don’t actually physically deflect the UV light. Sam explains, “the molecules in chemical sunscreen are there to absorb the UV radiation. Chemical sunscreen absorb the UV radiation that slowly break down and release heat to prevent damage to the skin which is one of the reasons sunscreen needs to be reapplied”.
There are a lot of reports in the media of people being badly sunburnt even after reapplying sunscreen. There is an explanation for this, Sam states,
“sunscreen is notorious for [not] being used properly… I say never with almost an amount of certainty that very, very few people actually wear sunscreen properly… there’s a lot of clinical data out there that show average consumers use an average of 25% of what they should actually be”.
What is Spot my UV?
Spot my UV is a skin mimicking sticker that tells you when your sunscreen is no longer protecting you. The skin mimicking layer is important because sunscreen binds to the sticker in the same way as it binds to your face or your arm or your legs so it’s very accurate across many different activities.
The mission of Suncayr is to give you the UV awareness that you need to safely enjoy every day you spend outside. Sunscreen is not a complete solution. Since sunscreen is invisible when it’s both working and not working, how do you know that your sunscreen is still doing its job?
Listen to the full interview and hear Sam share how his journey into sunsmart awareness bought advanced technology and research to an everyday routine and the importance of knowing you’re protected in the sun.
To learn more about Suncayr visit:
To view the [me]elanoma campaign visit:
Listen to the podcast here: