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Tanners beware

Skin cancer can strike in the dark

It may be tempting to get outside and enjoy the sunshine, but experts warn to take it easy and put on sunscreen.

Stepping into the shade before the sting of a sun burn takes effect might not be enough to protect your skin, according to a new study by Yale University.

Researchers found that the ultraviolet damage to skin continues for three hours after exposure – even if you’re sitting under an umbrella.

“It’s important that people apply sunscreen before going out and enjoying the sunshine and warm weather,” said Dr. Kurt Maggio, a dermatologist at Renewal Dermatology and MedSpa in Gainesville, Manassas and Reston, Virginia, who is also on the medical staff at Novant Health UVA Health System Prince William Medical Center.

Melanin, the pigment that gives skin its tan color and protects it from the sun, might actually be at fault for some of the damage. In studying the cells that produce melanin, the researchers found the chemical bonds in the skin’s DNA that form during exposure to UV rays continued even after the exposure stopped for up to four hours before the skin’s repair mechanism kicked in.

“Melanin acts as a shield so it protects skin from sun damage,” Maggio said. “What this new study suggests is that it can also damage skin’s DNA because of chemical reactions. It also means we underestimate the amount of damage people are getting from UV exposure.”

The research team also found that vitamin E lotion diminished the delayed effects of UV rays, suggesting that a sunscreen with vitamin E should be applied after tanning to prevent further damage to the skin.

The study provides researchers with a different approach to preventing melanoma. Rather than relying on the current complement of sunscreens, researchers might be able to develop products that prevent melanin from remaining in an excited state following sun exposure.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. Most cases of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, are linked to exposure to ultraviolet light, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2011, more than 65,000 Americans were diagnosed with melanomas and more than 9,000 people died from this skin cancer.

To lower your risk from skin cancer this season, protect your skin from the sun and don’t use indoor tanning.

Other recommendations:

  • Stay in the shade during midday hours.
  • Wear clothing that covers arms and legs.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher that offers both UVA and UVB protection.
  • Wear sunglasses with UVA and UVB protection.

Published: 5/1/2015