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By Amy Poshepny, coordinator of the MATC Aesthetician Technical Diploma Program and barber/cosmetology instructor

Your skin is an amazing organ that serves many functions such as protection, sensation, temperature regulation, absorption and excretion. I’d like to share information about the protection your skin can offer from sun exposure.

First, we need to understand how our skin works to protect us from the sun. The skin contains melanin, which is a pigment that increases production in order to protect us from sun exposure. Melanin is the skin’s defense against the sun.

Why do some people tan when exposed to the sun and others burn? Light skin does not produce as much melanin as darker skin, causing light-skinned people to burn.  People with darker shades of skin are able to produce more melanin to protect their skin, often resembling a tan. But, regardless of the shade of your skin, the effects of the sun can traumatize the melanin-producing cells called melanocytes. The cellular damage can remain with you forever and appear many years later.  (Please watch this powerful video clip titled “Dear 16-Year-Old Me” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_4jgUcxMezM )

The darker your skin, the higher the natural Sun Protection Factor (SPF) protection you genetically possess.  For example, Caucasians may only be protected to around 3.5 SPF, while African-Americans’ melanin will protect up to SPF 13.  Both of these are lower than the protection offered by basic sunscreen, so no matter your skin tone, you should wear sunscreen to protect against developing skin cancer.

The risk of excessive exposure to the sun is more than sunburn.  Sun damage affects the skin in ways you can’t see. It can be traced back to the sunburns you may have suffered as a child or young adult.  What can you do to protect yourself today?  Ideally, you should stay out of the sun, cover up when in the sun and always wear sunscreen, no matter how much exposure you experience.

The most recognized form of protection is sunscreen with SPF.  Recently there has been a shift in the focus on SPF protection only, to also include sunscreen that has additional protection from both UVA and UVB rays.  UVA rays cause premature aging. The UVA rays affect the dermis, the second layer of the skin where collagen and elastin can break down, causing wrinkles.  The UVB rays are responsible for sunburns. (Here’s an easy way to remember the difference – think UV-Aging and UV-Burn.)  Most sunscreens protect against UVA rays.  However, to protect yourself against burning rays, you need to use a broad spectrum sunscreen, which will protect the outer layer of your skin, the epidermis, where melanin production takes place.

Although melanin protects us from the UV rays of the sun, over exposure to the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to the melanin in your skin that can lead to skin cancer. Sunscreen does more than prevent sunburns, it protects your skin against radiation from the sun, cell death and tissue breakdown.  The sun’s radiation can penetrate through the clouds, so sunscreen is not only for sunny days.  The next time you are outside, keep these guidelines in mind. Also, check your skin regularly for any changes.  If you notice a change in a mole or a new mole, please contact your doctor immediately.

Guidelines to follow according to http://www.skincancer.org:

  • Seek the shade, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Avoid getting a sunburn.
  • Avoid tanning outdoors and in UV tanning booths.
  • Cover up with clothing, including a broad-brimmed hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher.
  • Apply 1 ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen to your entire body 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours, or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.
  • Keep newborns out of the sun. Sunscreen should be used on babies more than six months old.
  • Examine your skin head-to-toe every month.
  • See your physician every year for a professional skin exam.

Here are additional resources:                                                                                                                                                   http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/skin-cancer-and-skin-of-color






Poshepny is the coordinator of the MATC’s new Aesthetician Technical Diploma Program, which will launch in the fall 2015 semester at MATC’s Mequon Campus. For more information, visit http://www.matc.edu/business/diplomas/aesthetician.cfm