7 Surprising Sun-Care Facts That May Save Your Life

There are directives you've read a million times. Then there are the following revelations. Put on those Ray-Bans—you're about to get serious about UV protection.

by Jennifer Scruby
Photograph: Jamie Nelson/Blaublut-Edition.Com

1. Probiotics May Help Heal Sun Damage.

Love yogurt? Keep eating. According to a review of studies published in the journal Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, probiotics may prevent and treat a range of skin conditions, from sun damage and acne to eczema. “Probiotics appear to work whether they’re consumed or rubbed onto the skin,” says Jeremy Green, MD, clinical assistant professor in the University of Miami Department of Dermatology.
“Used topically, they reduce inflammation and lower the skin’s pH, making it more acidic and thus less hospitable for harmful bacteria to grow. There’s also evidence that eating just 100 grams [about 3.5 ounces] of probiotic yogurt a day strengthens your skin’s defenses and reduces the likelihood of eczema in people prone to it.” The catch: “You have to eat it daily to see the benefits,” says Green.

2. That Night-Cap Could Up Your Risk Of Skin Cancer.

Are you there, vodka? It’s me, cancer. In a recent study at Stanford Medical School, researchers found that a preference for white wine or hard liquor, along with higher alcohol consumption (seven or more drinks per week), was linked to an increased risk of all types of skin cancer. Doctors aren’t sure why the link exists. “Blame it on ethanol, a sugar- and starch-based compound [found in alcoholic drinks] that has been shown to trigger inflammation and free-radical formation in the skin,” hypothesizes Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in the dermatology department at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. On the cocktail scale, hard liquor contains the highest concentration of ethanol, followed by beer and wine. But red wine is rich in antioxidants, including resveratrol, which can actually help buffer ethanol’s negative impact. So if you’re imbibing, red wine is your best choice.

3. Taking Aspirin May Lower Your Cancer Risk.

We know popping aspirin helps the heart. But in a new study reported in the journal Cancer, people who took common painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen were also less likely to develop all types of skin cancer, especially when they took the drugs for at least seven years or used them at least twice a week. And the longer people took the drugs—and the higher the dose—the greater the anticancer benefit: up to a 46 percent lower risk of melanoma, a 35 percent lower risk of squamous cell carcinoma and a 17 percent lower risk of basal cell carcinoma. The drugs are thought to counter cancer growth by suppressing inflammatory pathways and limiting a tumor’s ability to expand and develop blood supplies. “Still, until more data emerges, I wouldn’t start taking aspirin unless your primary care doctor OKs it,” advises Zeichner.

4. Redheads Do Need Extra Protection.

Scientists have long known that natural redheads have an exceedingly high risk of melanoma (they’re 10 to 100 times as vulnerable as blondes and brunettes), but their fair complexions aren’t the top cause. Researchers at Harvard Medical School have determined that the 1 to 2 percent of people born with red hair have multiple variants of a gene receptor called MC1R (variants, it should be noted, not found in people with any other hair color). When redheads are exposed to UV rays, the MC1R triggers a physical process tied to tumor growth. “In most people, a number of genetic alterations must happen before a primary melanocyte in your skin can become a melanoma,” explains Wenyi Wei, MD, lead coauthor of the study. “But with the red-hair variant, that process occurs at a dangerously accelerated pace.”

5. Using SPF Prevents All Types Of Cancer.

First published in the May 2014 issue

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