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What Does the Sun Do to Your Skin to Cause Cancer?

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In Australia, one person is diagnosed with the skin cancer every half an hour. Additionally, two out of three Australians can expect to be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. Yet we remain complacent about what damage the sun does to our skin, and how to protect it.

Paige Preston, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s skin cancer committee reveals that “people often just look at sunny days and temperature to determine their [sun-safety] behaviours,”. “Actually, it’s the UV levels, these invisible parts of sunlight that we can’t see or feel, so there’s a bit of disconnect there.”

So why is the sun so dangerous?

The sun emits energy in the form of solar radiation (a large collection of energy on the electromagnetic radiation spectrum) that travels to Earth. Most of these are absorbed by the atmosphere – except for the radiation that is not. These rays can be both be nourishing and damaging to your skin. Proteins in our skin convert the radiation into vitamin D3, essential for bone and heart health, but these rays also cause sunburn.

Ultraviolet rays are responsible for the skin damage. UVA (Long-wave ultraviolet A light), can penetrate deep into the skin. It is responsible to for causing; melasma, wrinkles, and leatheriness from depleted collagen. This kind of genetic damage can lead to skin cancer. UVB (Shorter-wave ultraviolet B light), penetrates the most upper layer of our skin and is primarily responsible for sunburn and most skin cancers.

How does this cause skin cancer?

When sunlight radiation hits your skin, the UVB rays damages your skin cells. When an un-repaired cell divides, the damaged DNA is passed on to the child cells. Over a person's lifetime, the cells divide many times, passing the mutation to more and more cells.

“If [the UVB light] hits a gene that critically is involved in that process of cell division, then the cell can just keep dividing repeatedly, that’s how cancer starts,” says says Professor David Whiteman, deputy director of QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane. “Once the cell loses the ability to switch itself off and just behave, once it loses that regulation, it’s just open slather. That’s what cancer is."

“By the time you’ve got a sunburn … your body is sending out, basically, danger systems, saying, ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’ve got dead cells all over the place’,” says Whiteman. Sunburn, a radiation burn, might be the leading cause in most cases of skin cancer but it is just one of several mechanisms through which cells acquire damage that starts the cancer ball rolling. Repeated, incidental sun exposure is another significant driver.

What can you do to protect your body from the sun?

  • Sunscreen guidelines suggests you should apply sunscreen every morning when the UV level is three or higher. The UV scale runs from zero to 11+. Check out your local SunDoctors Clinic Page to see what the current UV level is in your area.
  • Avoid sun exposure from 10am to 3pm. That is when the UV levels are at their peak.
  • Reapply sunscreen after you become wet otherwise every two or three hours.
  • Book in for regular skin checks and see your doctor if you notice any changes in your skin.

Book your Skin Check Appointment Today

*Source smh.com.au. Read the full story here.

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