The dark side of… the sun

The warmth of the sun is enveloping, caressing, relaxing but exciting, almost like an irresistible lover. To be realistic, this attraction can be fatal like any irrational, uncontrolled passion.
There is a hidden Mr Hyde behind the pleasure given by the sun, as not all of the sun’s rays are equally pleasing. Ultraviolet light, the invisible but intense rays of the sun, damages the skin, as it can be seen right away in the form of darkening/suntan or reddening/sunburn. Other harmful effects appear later on, worsening with time and repeated sun exposure. It is a reality that should not be ignored, and must always be remembered, especially for Algarve residents, as the sunniest place in Europe is not a Mediterranean resort but an Atlantic city, Faro, capital of the Algarve, enjoying the sunshine 3,170 hours each year (eight hours and forty minutes daily).

Suntan or sunburn

Some people think that a tan means good health and looks. Dermatologists know that a tan does not prevent sun damage, it is sun damage.
The fantastic, good looking “suntan” that people love to show around, develops when ultraviolet light injures the epidermis, thus accelerating the production of melanin (the dark pigment that gives the skin its normal colour) to protect the deeper layers of the skin and prevent further injury.
When the skin’s capacity to resist the ultraviolet light is exceeded, there comes the “sunburn” developing with redness, swelling, blistering and pain. The damage remains, even after new skin has replaced all the dead skin that has peeled away. The effects are cumulative as with every burn the skin becomes more damaged.

Premature wrinkling

It is called photoaging. Exposure to ultraviolet light can accelerate the skin’s natural signs of aging, with more wrinkles and thinner, more fragile skin, making you appear older than you are! Terrifying isn’t it? Not worth spending all that money on anti-aging and anti-wrinkle creams to “burn” it all with the sunlight at the beach.
It is wrong to think that clouds can protect the skin as you can get sunburn on a cloudy day. Also the reflected ultraviolet light from sand, water or snow can burn as severely as direct sunlight.

Eye damage

The sun can cause cataracts and other eye damage. Cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness.

And… skin cancer

If sunburn and photoaging are not enough to recognise the danger, when sun exposure is intense enough to cause a burn, the DNA of the skin cells can be damaged leading to skin cancer. More than 90 percent of all skin cancers occur on parts of the body exposed to the sun.
There are two types of ultraviolet radiation, A (UVA) and B (UVB). UVA penetrates into the deeper layers impairing the skin’s immune system, contributing to cancer. UVB causes sunburn and also contributes to the formation of superficial skin cancers.
To be most effective, the necessary steps to protect the skin should begin in early childhood and go on regardless of age.
Although the amount of exposure to ultraviolet is cumulative over one’s lifetime, there are lucky ones that can handle a lot more sun with less damage, as there is a genetically determined tolerance of the skin to UV radiation.
It is not new that behaviour does have an effect on health, whether it’s cigarette smoking, eating habits or sunbathing. Dermatologists say that applying sunscreen to exposed areas should be a good year-round habit in most localities, a part of the daily routine, just like brushing your teeth.
However, there is no need to panic, you do not need to stay in a cave and avoid the sun altogether, there are beneficial effects to the sun. Get out, be active and have a healthy life. Just be smart about your sun exposure and take precautions to keep your skin healthy for years to come.
Some important advice:
▪ Apply sunscreen.
▪ Beware of tanning beds, they are not a safe way to get ready for the sunshine.
▪ Opt for self-tanners; experts consider them safe and an excellent, much healthier way to achieve a golden glow without paying the price of exposure to skin damaging UV light.
Best health wishes,
Maria Alice
By Dr Maria Alice
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Dr Maria Alice is a consultant in General and Family Medicine. General Manager/Medical Director – Luzdoc International Medical Service. Medical Director – Grupo Hospital Particular do Algarve