Skin cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. Many people think they are not at risk when they are out of the sun. But new information shows that the effects of the sun last long after a person leaves the sunlight.

BBC news reports on the new study.

It shows that people are still at risk of developing skin cancer even hours after they leave the sun and head inside. The sunlight continues to damage a person’s skin.

Experts at Yale University, in the United States, discovered which pigment kept causing the damage. It was actually something that scientists had mistaken to be a supposedly protective pigment called melanin. The researchers say the results gathered could lead to better sunscreens that can prevent the extra damage. British experts said that this new information reinforces current medical guidelines surrounding sun protection recommendations.

How does sunlight cause skin cancer?

The BBC explains, “When UV radiation pummels our skin cells, it can cause mutations in the DNA. Melanin, the pigment behind a tan or natural skin tone, is the body's defense as it absorbs the radiation. What scientists did not know previously was what happens to all the energy that the melanin has absorbed. The Yale team showed, in the journal Science, that the high-energy version of melanin supercharges a series of chemical reactions.”

The study’s lead researcher called this ‘a cocktail of superoxides and peroxynitrites’ that culminate in a very high-energy molecule breaking apart and giving off the energy that was holding it together. The energy is then turned into DNA. Clinical trials showed that the whole damage in skin was still taking place a whopping four hours after UV exposure was discontinued.

Dr. Bav Shergill, who is part of the British Association of Dermatologists, commented on the study. He said, “This research serves to reinforce current advice on sun protection, which is something I welcome.”

The dermatologists’ association recommends that sunscreen should be utilized with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and good UVA protection, and that people should not be in the sun between the times of 11:00 am and 3:00 pm.

Dr. Shergill also said,

“The researchers note that the time it takes between sun exposure and the damage being completely done gives a window of opportunity in which new preventative tools could work. This is an interesting concept. Whilst this does open future avenues for treatments, that could be a long way off. So in the meantime the public should focus on traditional sun protection methods.”

The research team was glad that they were able to put out this information before the coming summer months when more people are prone to sun bathing, which is the most common cause of skin cancer. More can be read about the study in Science.

Gerry Oginski
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