The Sun and Your Skin

man in the beach spraying sunscreenSun protection and cigarette smoking have an interesting similar trajectory. Back in the 40s and 50s it seemed everyone, literally, smoked cigarettes. Cigarette companies even enlisted doctors to support their claims of “doctor-recommended” brands and the like. And then came the 60s and information about scientific research linking lung cancer and emphysema to cigarette smoking started to come out. Today, an estimated 14% of the population smokes, compared to over 60% in 1950.

Like smoking, sun exposure was once a much sought-after pastime. Those with lighter skin tones all wanted to get that “healthy” glow of a tan. The Coppertone Girl was a famous icon for her serious tan lines. Teenage girls wanted to, basically, sauté their skin by applying baby oil and lying on a reflective surface. Having a tan was equated with health.

Little did we know at the time that tanning was simply the skin’s way of trying to protect itself from the sun’s UV rays. No one knew that sun exposure had a cumulative effect. While the first sunscreen was invented to provide climbers on Mont Blanc protection in 1938, sunscreen in the U.S. really didn’t fully become accepted until the 1980s.

Research that has looked back at the sunscreens, such as Coppertone, available in the 1960s and 1970s show that those suntan lotions only had an SPF, sun protection factor, of 2. They did little to even diminish the sun’s UV rays impacting the skin.

The first SPF 15 sunscreen was not introduced until 1986 in the U.S., the first 30 SPF coming in the early 90s.

Today, dermatologists recommend everyone wear 30 SPF when out in the sun because we now know what the sun does to our skin. But for those who grew up in the 60s and 70s that’s little comfort, as the damage inflicted in those sunscreen-less decades is now coming due in the form of sun damaged skin and skin cancer.

If you’re one of the millions who received peeling sunburns back in those days, research now shows that each of those burns doubles a person’s chance of developing melanoma later in life. Many of us had dozens of those burns.

In April’s second Romeo & Juliette blog, we’ll get into just how the sun damages our skin. Until then, if you’re interested in getting rid of some unwanted hair, please call us at (212) 750-2000 to make an appointment.

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