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Practicing UV Safety This Summer with Jay Sirois

Published July 6, 2022

Show Notes

July is UV Safety Awareness Month, which is a time to spread awareness about how important it is to protect our eyes and skin from the side effects of ultraviolet rays. This month continues to be a reminder on the connection between over exposure to UV light and cancers that occur in the eyes, lips, and the skin. While sun safety has always been an important topic, especially as we age, the last couple of years have added new confusion to which sunscreens we should buy and how to use them properly.

Joining us today for the conversation is Jay Sirois, Vice President of Regulatory & Scientific Affairs at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. CHPA is the leading voice fighting to ensure that Americans have access to over-the-counter (OTC) medications, dietary supplements, and consumer medical devices they can count on to be reliable, save money and time, and deliver new and better ways to get and stay healthy.

Episode Transcript

Sue Peschin:

Hi, everyone. Welcome to This is Growing Old, a podcast all about the common human experience of aging. My name is Sue Peschin, and I’m President and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research.

Sue Peschin:

July is UV safety awareness month, which is a time to spread awareness about how important it is to protect our eyes and our skin from the side effect of ultraviolet rays.

Sue Peschin:

This month continues to be a reminder on the connection between overexposure to UV light and cancers that can occur in the eyes, lips, and skin. While some sun safety has always been an important topic, especially as we age, the last couple of years have added a little bit of new confusion about which sunscreens we should buy and how to use them properly.

Sue Peschin:

Joining us today for the conversation is Jay Sirois. He serves as Vice President of Regulatory and Scientific Affairs at the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, or CHPA. CHPA is the leading voice fighting to ensure that Americans have access to over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements, and consumer medical devices that they can count on to be reliable, save money and time, and deliver new and better ways to get and stay healthy.

Sue Peschin:

Jay, thank you so much for joining us today to chat about UV safety awareness and getting our glow on.

Jay Sirois:

Well, thank you for having me, Sue. I really appreciate the invite, and looking forward to getting my glow on as well.

Sue Peschin:

Great. All right. Let’s get started. Back in the day, I just picked up a Coppertone, whatever that smelled good, usually something in the coconut family, some baby oil, maybe for some extra fry, and maybe a little lemon juice in the hair, but now we need to know about SPF, ingredients, how long to keep it on, when to take it off. It can make a girl tired just thinking about it. What does the FDA have to say on all these issues?

Jay Sirois:

Well, the first thing to understand is, yes, there is a lot of info out there about sunscreens. I think the first thing that’s important to understand is that FDA regulates sunscreens to ensure that they meet safety and effectiveness standards.

Jay Sirois:

The term SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, indicates the level of sunburn protection that’s provided by the sunscreen product. Products that have a higher SPF provide a greater or more protection against sunburn, but it’s important to note that the SPF values are based on a test that measures protection against a certain type of UV radiation called UVB radiation. That’s the type that causes sunburn.

Jay Sirois:

There are other types of UV radiation, including UVA, which can be harmful to your skin. It can cause such things as premature aging, like the wrinkly or the leathery look you sometimes see in folks who have been out on the sun excessively for years. That’s why you should always use a broad spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVB and UVA rays.

Sue Peschin:

Okay.

Jay Sirois:

Also, weighed in on the active ingredients that are used in sunscreens. Those are the ones that protect you from the sun’s harmful rays. Sunscreens are regulated by FDA, under what’s called an OTC monograph, which is essentially like a recipe book that describes the ingredients that FDA’s recognized as safe and effective, what concentrations those ingredients can be used at, what are the allowed combinations of ingredients that can be in the product, and they also define testing and labeling requirements.

Jay Sirois:

Right now there are 16 active ingredients allowed under the OTC monograph for sunscreens. Although, I will know that note that all of these are still used. About a year ago, the FDA said that for two of these ingredients, that being zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide, FDA said the data was sufficient to show that they are safe and effective.

Jay Sirois:

Now, for several ingredients, FDA has asked for more safety data and right now industry is currently working to put this data together, but it’s important to note that this doesn’t mean that those ingredients for which the FDA’s asked for more safety data, that they’re not safe to use. In fact, FDA has said that you should continue to use sunscreen in combination with other sun protection measures like protective clothing, giving the recognized benefit of protecting you from sunburn and skin cancer.

Jay Sirois:

Lastly, you mentioned how to use sunscreens correctly in terms of when to apply them and sunscreens are like any other OTC drug, in that it’s very important to read the label before you use the product. What you need to look for is a broad spectrum product. Again, meaning one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, that has an SPF of 15 or more, higher is better if you have fair skin. You should apply it before you go out into the sun. I think there, the recommendation is 15 minutes before you go out. You should also reapply sunscreen every two hours if you’re out in the sun and you’ll want to do that more frequently, if you’re in the water or sweating.

Jay Sirois:

Of course there’s lots of products to choose from, but some really great advice is that the best sunscreen is the one you use when you’re out on the sun. Of course, it’s also a good idea to limit your sun exposure, wear clothing to protect your skin and like a wide-brimmed hat or a long sleeve shirt.

Sue Peschin:

Okay. When I’m in the drugstore and I’m looking at a couple of rows of different options, is there somewhere we should go for CHPA or anything else that we should keep in mind when we’re looking at all those bottles picking out sunscreen?

Jay Sirois:

I think the points that I mentioned is to look… The broad spectrum is very important.

Sue Peschin:

Okay.

Jay Sirois:

Typically, a higher SPF product will be better because what we tend to see is people will not apply as often as they should, or limit their time in the sun, so it’s better to pick one of those higher SPFs, and to really can’t stress strongly enough, to read the label, and to apply correctly. You want to apply correctly, make sure you’re putting it on frequently enough, as well as the correct way, not taking a spray bottle and keep holding it two feet from your body and trying to spray it on.

Sue Peschin:

Okay. Sounds good. I do want to ask about the cloudy side of sun tanning, please just talk a bit about the risks and how often folks should get their skin checked, and what they should maybe look for in between visits of getting their skin checked.

Jay Sirois:

Sure, so I think you brought up a good point in the intro about how our attitudes on sun exposure have changed. I’m certainly old enough to remember shooting for the George Harrison, perpetually tan look, but now as really opposed to even say, 20 years ago, we really have a greater understanding of the risks of excess sun exposure. We know that most skin cancers are the results of exposure to UV radiation from the sun. The most common types of skin cancer are basal and squamous cell carcinomas. These tend to be found on body parts that are exposed to the sun, like your nose and things like that. The occurrence of those cancers is related to your lifetime sun exposure. The more sun exposure you get, the more likely you are develop one of these types of cancer.

Jay Sirois:

Melanoma is another more serious type of skin cancer that can be related to sun exposure, but there’s not quite that strong of a link as there is for the other types. In between visits to your dermatologist, and I believe there, it’s recommended that you visit at least annually, once a year, you should certainly be mindful of any changes to your skin. There’s a simple, I don’t want to call it a test, but it’s really something you can do to help you get an idea of whether a change in your skin is a simple everyday blemish, or a more problem growth that you need to have checked by a dermatologist.

Jay Sirois:

It’s called the A, B, C, D E rule of the skin cancer. The A stands for assymetry. Normal moles on your body are typically symmetrical. If you drew a line to them, they’d be the same on both sides. Skin cancer spots tend to be different on both sides.

Jay Sirois:

The B stands for border and spots on your skin that have a blurry or a jagged edge can be a sign of skin cancer that you need to have checked.

Jay Sirois:

C is for color. Certainly moles that have more than one color in them need to be checked by a dermatologist.

Jay Sirois:

D is for diameter. If you have a skin growth that’s larger than a pencil eraser, it needs to be checked. That doesn’t mean that something smaller couldn’t be a problem, but certainly anything that’s bigger than that needs to be checked.

Jay Sirois:

Lastly, E is for evolution. That means that any mole or growth that you have on your body that’s changing in appearance or size, or it’s causing some type of a new symptom like pain or itching, or even bleeding. That’s something that certainly needs to be checked.

Jay Sirois:

I can say, I can speak from personal experience here, so a few years ago, I developed a really funny looking white spot on the tip of my nose and my wife who works in a cancer center said, you need to go get that checked out now. It turns out, it was a basal cell carcinoma. I had to have it burned off, which I can tell you was not a pleasant experience when they gave me a shot of anesthetic in my nose, and I about hit the ceiling. I now go every six months to my dermatologist and get checked. I’m also incredibly diligent about using sunscreen and limiting my time in the sun because I live in Florida and I spend a lot of time on the beach.

Sue Peschin:

Wow. I’m really glad that you told us about your experience, because I think there’s nothing like that, to be a good educational moment and potentially a deterrent.

Jay Sirois:

Yeah.

Sue Peschin:

I joke a lot about it, but I know my parents have also had some of those procedures and I have a lot of freckles and spots and all that.

Jay Sirois:

I heard a great quote when I was at the doctor’s office waiting in the waiting room. Someone said something to the effect of, well, it’s my job to grow these things and it’s the doctor’s job to cut them off.

Sue Peschin:

Oh gosh, yeah.

Jay Sirois:

Prefer to take out that step.

Sue Peschin:

Right. Exactly. Exactly. Well, so let’s talk about some, I think less known, which is UV exposure and vision loss from diseases like age related macular degeneration. I mentioned, I have a lot of freckles on my skin, but I also actually have one in my eye. My optometrist said he needs to monitor it for ocular melanoma, which I didn’t know was a thing until he told me about it. Tell our listeners about the sun and our eyes.

Jay Sirois:

Sure, so that’s an area that perhaps folks don’t think about as much. Certainly I think a lot of us, or maybe all of us have experienced a sunburn on our shoulders or back or something like that from being out in the sun too long, but excess sun exposure can also cause a number of problems with your eye.

Jay Sirois:

One is damaged to your cornea. It’s called photokeratitis. It’s essentially like a sunburn of your eye. It’s also called something called snow blindness, as a lot of people get this at high altitudes in snowy environments where the reflections of the sun off the snow is really high.

Jay Sirois:

Excess sun exposure can also lead to the formation of cataracts, which is a clouding of your eye lens, and it can also lead to more growth on the surface of your eye and these conditions can decrease your vision.

Jay Sirois:

You also mentioned ocular melanoma. It is the most common form of cancer of the eyes in adults, but it’s still pretty rare, but because most of these eye melanomas form in a part of the eye where you can’t see, when you’re, for instance, looking in a mirror, and because they don’t really cause a lot of early signs or symptoms, they can be really difficult to detect. Certainly excess exposure to sunlight is one factor that can increase your risk for developing ocular melanoma, so another really important piece of advice that I always follow is wear a hat, a wide-brimmed hat, and use UV protection sunglasses to minimize your risk.

Sue Peschin:

That’s great. Also, I didn’t realize that cataracts is sun exposure related. I thought it was just us getting older. I think really good information if there’s a way to prevent that by wearing sunglasses and just reducing your direct exposure to your eyes.

Jay Sirois:

Yeah. I don’t think they’re all, I think certainly there can be other causes of cataracts, but certainly sun exposure can be one of them.

Sue Peschin:

Right. Okay, and so then on the flip side of all of this is constant messaging that none of us are getting enough vitamin D, so what’s a girl to do?

Jay Sirois:

Okay, so vitamin D, it’s a fat soluble vitamin that’s present in certain foods and it’s fortified in other foods. It’s also of course available as a dietary supplement, but it’s also produced in your body when UV light hits your skin. It’s really important that you get adequate amounts of vitamin D as it helps protect, especially older folks, from osteoporosis. It helps reduce inflammation, and it has other functions in the body, including helping with immune function and glucose metabolism.

Jay Sirois:

Sunlight is a major source of vitamin D, but the amount that gets produced by an individual can vary and particularly for older folks, or for those that have a darker skin type, the amount of vitamin D that they produce when they’re in the sun might be less, so while it’s not really a good idea to actively avoid all UV exposure, again, you need to be smart about the time you spend in the sun, but it’s also important to eat a balanced diet for including foods that are high in vitamin D, like certain types of fish, like salmon or eggs, or there are foods that are fortified with vitamin D like milk or orange juice, but it’s also a good idea to check with your doctor to make sure your vitamin D levels are where they should be. Again, I’ve said it probably 10 times already, but be smart about your sun exposure. You don’t have to stay out for 10 hours into the sun to get better vitamin D levels.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah, and you just brought up, I think a really good point that people don’t think about that often, which is, for people of color, I think sometimes there is a perception like, well, I have darker skin, I can’t get skin cancer. Can you just give us a few thoughts on that?

Jay Sirois:

Yeah. It certainly, you can still get burned if you have a darker skin. That’s certainly… You still should wear sunscreen. I think that’s pretty, the evidence behind that is pretty solid. If you’re going to be out in the sun, no matter who you are, whether you’re young, old, have a fair skin type, or darker skin, you need to wear sunscreen to protect yourself. Not only against getting a sun burn, but against certain types of skin cancers that can develop with excess sun exposure.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah, and my understanding is for people of color that it’s important to put sunscreen all over, just like for white people, but the palms of your hands and the bottom of your feet, those are particular areas where you should focus as well, because oftentimes skin cancer will show up there in people of color.

Jay Sirois:

Right. I think probably a lot of the same areas too, areas that get exposed, like your shoulders or your back…

Sue Peschin:

The nose…

Jay Sirois:

Your nose, things like that, your face, your ears…

Sue Peschin:

Right.

Jay Sirois:

When I was getting treated for my skin cancer, I saw a lot of people with bandages on their face. It’s a big reminder to put it on your face and wear a hat.

Sue Peschin:

Okay. Yes, I have started wearing a hat in recent years because also as you get older, your hair might thin a bit, just saying…

Jay Sirois:

Or turn gray like me…

Sue Peschin:

Yeah, so all right, well we have just scratched the surface on a lot of great content and expertise. CHPA also has a foundation that offers a lot of helpful resources on responsible self care and using storing and disposing of over-the-counter products. Check them out by Googling CHPA Educational Foundation. Now turning to our closing question, which we ask all of our guests, first, when you were a kid, what did you imagine growing older would be like?

Jay Sirois:

That’s a great question. When I was really young, probably four or five, I was obsessed with working on a garbage truck. It was really all I wanted to do. My mom would tell me as I grew up that nobody could roll a garbage can better than four year old me. I actually did fulfill that dream. I worked for two summers as a garbage man in my hometown on a truck, but eventually I decided to move in another direction, but on a more serious note, I guess when I was young I think I mostly looked at my parents and our extended family, like aunts and uncles and my grandmother and saw how family was incredibly important. I tried to take some of those lessons that I learned from them and pass them on to my kids that are grown and out of the house. I can’t say that even if I look back 15 years ago, I saw myself being where I’m at today, but I think that’s part of the beauty of life, sort of unpredictability of it, and happy where I’m at for sure.

Sue Peschin:

That’s awesome. Did you like Oscar the Grouch when you were little?

Jay Sirois:

I did. I did. Yeah, but I was more into the… I used to go outside and watch the garbage guys and I was like, I really wanted to be one.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. How cool is that. Absolutely.

Jay Sirois:

Yeah. It all worked out too.

Sue Peschin:

That’s cool. What do you enjoy most about growing older now?

Jay Sirois:

I think just really being comfortable with who I am, personally and professionally. I know it sounds pretty cliche, but I try hard not to sweat the small stuff now. As everybody knows, that comes from experience and learning that some things aren’t under your control, and you need to let them go and focus on the areas where you can make a difference. I guess one good example there is, I live in Florida, I’m really working on improving my golf game and I get to play a lot more now than I used to. I’m hoping for sure that’s something that is in my control and that can get better.

Jay Sirois:

Another thing is, I guess now, compared to when I was younger, I’m a lot more social now, compared to then. I really, I live in a great neighborhood, really close to the beach, with lots of folks that have lot of similar interests that I do, like golf, spending time on the beach, and having that extended social network is really important. It’s been kind of a key factor in keeping me active and getting me to try new things.

Sue Peschin:

That’s awesome. That is a big factor as we get older, and we also, we get more aware of time.

Jay Sirois:

Yeah, exactly.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah, not wanting to-

Jay Sirois:

Teach those lessons to my kids, but you know, sometimes they don’t listen.

Sue Peschin:

Yeah. When we’re young, we think we have all the time in the world.

Jay Sirois:

Exactly.

Sue Peschin:

Well, thank you Jay so much for joining us. It was an absolute pleasure. Really.

Jay Sirois:

Thank you. I really appreciate you asking me to be on.

Sue Peschin:

Absolutely. Thanks to our audience also for listening to This is Growing Old. If you’re enjoying this show, please subscribe wherever you get podcasts and have a fabulous day.