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HOUSTON (CW39) – It is skin cancer awareness month and Dr. Mirwat is here to help explain the importance of protecting your skin in the sun. She states, “One in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer, and the instances are rising”.  

We use National Don’t FRY-day to tell people not to tan, or sunburn due to the risk of developing melanoma, which is a serious type of skin cancer.  

“We are seeing more and more younger patients develop skin cancer, which is very devastating. Another fact is that 5-10% of all skin cancers occur in the eye lids. That is a small surface area to be having such a high intendance of cancer. We think that it is because it is one of the last places you think about protecting. You apply sunscreen everywhere else, if it is cloudy outside, maybe you won’t wear sunglasses. These are all factors. I tell my patients that you need to start at an early age and to make sure your kids are in UV protective sunglasses.”, Mirwat states.  

As for different ethnicities, with a darker completion, they are not immune to the harmful rays of the sun.  

Mirwat explains, “the thinking that most people have is that if you are darker complected, you have a higher melanin index and you are more protected. Asians, African Americans, Hispanics, wouldn’t apply sunscreen because of this. Now we are seeing an increase of skin cancers in all of these ethnicities.  

I asked Dr. Mirwat what she has to say to younger women and men who strive to reach these beauty standards that are portrayed through television and social media. A fit bronzed body on the beach is what is showcased this time of year, young adults and teens especially are out for hours at time purposefully trying to tan and burn to reach a certain color, while at the same time really damaging their skin.  

She responded by stating, “I agree with you, I think this is highly concerning. Everyone wants to have that bronzed look. Tanning beds are so popular, but they are associated with increased instances of skin cancer. I recommend that people go and get something like a spray tan. Those are easy enough to get, and it doesn’t ruin your skin. Also, aging… if we are talking about beauty standards and aesthetics, sun exposure is the number one factor when it comes to aging. Those lines, those wrinkles area developing faster in people who are more exposed to the Sun, we know that for a fact.  

We have been going over the harmful effects of the sun, however, we need the sun! Everything in moderation. I ask Dr. Mirwat the benefits that we get from sunlight, if we don’t overdo it with exposure.  

 She says, “We need it for vitamin D levels, calcium absorption, those two are linked. We ae finding that more and more people are also vitamin D deficient. Bone density can decrease due to that. I think it all comes down, to like you said, moderation. You want to have a certain amount of sun exposure, be outdoors, enjoy that fresh air and natural light. However, protecting your body with sunscreen is still important. No sunscreen is 100%. At maximum you are getting 98% coverage, so you still are getting UV even if you apply correctly. However, you won’t be getting those high, concentrated amounts of UV exposure with potential damage.  

Mirwat showcases some items that she personally likes to use when out in the sun.  

She states,” It is always important to have a wide brimmed hat, that is dark. You want a dark underbrim because dark colors absorb, while light colors reflect. If you have a light color underbrim it will reflect the UV light back onto your face. This visor is neat, it its UV protected, and it is on a hinge so you can move it as needed. It has a wraparound shape, and it is adjustable.” 

Not all sunscreens are created equal. “There are chemical sunscreens and physical sunscreens”, Mirwat says.  

“Chemical sunscreens are the ones that we are all used to using. Those are the ones that have some harmful chemical substances in them that get into our system. Studies have shown that these chemicals can last up to three weeks in our system. The ones that have oxybenzone, homosalate, octinoxate  … those are the ones that are harmful. In fact, in 2018 Hawaii was the first state to pass a law banning chemical sunscreens and it went into effect January of this year. They want us to only be using zinc, or titanium dioxide which are physical sunscreens. I am particularly concerned about the sprays when talking about chemical sunscreens. If we are talking about applying it to our skin, and it lasting so long in our bloodstreams… it can cause endocrine disruptions, and we don’t know the long-term effects just yet… imaging inhaling it with the use of these aerosol cans. So that is really a no no!” 

Zinc oxide and titanium oxide make up physical sunscreens.  

“Physical sunscreens sit on our skin like a layer and don’t allow UV to penetrate. Nothing is getting absorbed so it is a lot safer”, Mirwat adds. 

Coral reefs and marine life also get harmed by chemical sunscreens. Since we know it is hurting them… imagine what it is doing to us. We are putting these chemicals directly on our skin in a much higher concentration than what is happening in the sea.  

Some people try to avoid the physical sunscreens because they can leave behind a white, chalky paste.  

“Now they come in tinted versions. When you apply it, it doesn’t leave a white chalky appearance. It is translucent, almost… it also gives that dewy appearance.”, says Mirwat.