THE WARMTH of the sun is enveloping, caressing, relaxing and, at the same time, exciting, almost like an irresistible lover. To be realistic, this attraction can be fatal…like any irrational, uncontrolled passion.
There is a Mr. Hide behind the pleasure given by the sun, as not all of its 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.
A suntan develops when ultraviolet light injures the epidermis, 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, which develops with redness, swelling, blistering and pain. The damage remains, even after new skin has replaced all the dead skin that has peeled away.
When sun exposure is intense enough to cause a burn, the DNA of the skin cells can be damaged leading to skin cancer.
If this is not enough to recognise the danger, then there is more: photoageing. This means that exposure to ultraviolet light can accelerate the skin’s natural signs of ageing, with more wrinkles and thinner, more fragile skin, making you appear older than you are! Terrifying, isn’t it? It’s not worth spending all that money on anti-ageing and anti-wrinkle creams to “burn it” all…with the sunlight at the beach!
You are wrong if you 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.
There are two types of ultraviolet radiation, A (UVA) and B (UVB). UVA penetrates into the deeper layers, impairing the skin’s immune system and 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 continue regardless of age.
Avoid the sun during
From 10am to 4pm, the time spent outdoors should be reduced.
Wear protective clothing
Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors, not after arriving at the pool or beach, and reapply throughout the day because of sweating, swimming and “towelling”. Even water-resistant sunscreens need to be reapplied every 90 minutes. Regular, proper use of broad-spectrum sunscreens, providing protection against both UVA and UVB, is the key to preventing sunburn, sun damage and skin cancer.
Sun Protection Factor (SPF) ratings refer only to UVB protection and are based on how much longer someone will be protected from sunburn if sunscreen is applied. If you normally burn in 20 minutes, an SPF 15 will allow you to stay out in the sun 15 times longer, if applied properly. The SPF number doesn’t refer to a sunscreen’s strength. A 30 is no stronger than an 8, it does not filter out more harmful rays, but it does protect for longer. Always use a minimum SPF of 15.
Beware of tanning beds:
They are not a safe way to get ready for the sunshine
According to experts, there’s no such thing as a safe tan as both natural sunlight and the UV light in tanning beds increase the risk of skin cancer and premature skin ageing. They may also worsen some chronic conditions and interact with some medication that cause increased sensitivity to light (photosensitivity), leading to a severe sunburn-like reaction. Ask your doctor about any medication you might be taking.
Welcome to the “self bronzers”
Experts consider them safe and an excellent, much healthier way to achieve the golden glow look without paying the price of exposure to skin damaging UV light. But many of these products do not contain sunscreen.
The so-called “tanning pills”
These contain a vitamin mixture of carotenoids and do not produce a “real” tan nor protect against sunburn. They temporarily tint the skin, but the colour usually fades within a few weeks after discontinuing the pills. There’s no evidence of serious side effects from tanning pills, but if you have any ongoing health problems, consult your doctor before using them.
Although the amount of exposure to ultraviolet is cumulative over one’s lifetime, there are the 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 news that behaviour does have an effect on health, whether it’s 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!
But do not panic – you do not need to stay in a cave and avoid the sun altogether; there are good beneficial effects of 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 the years to come.
Best health wishes,
Dr. Maria Alice