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Skin damage from the sun

Summer is here! Drag out the sunscreen!

Sunscreen should be used on a daily basis all year round, not just in summer. I think it is fair to say that we just don't. Skin damage from the sun is not determined by the heat of the season.

How much do you actually understand about sunscreen and it's importance in helping prevent skin cancer? Those of us who are most likely to burn are also the most vulnerable to skin cancer. However, don’t be fooled. Dark coloured skin is vulnerable to skin cancer and less likely to be diagnosed early. What’s an SPF?

When considering the SPF rating of a sunscreen do you understand what it stands for? Did you know it only pertains to the UVB ray protection?

The UVB rays are the primary cause of sunburn and eye damage (cataracts).

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. Take for instance SPF 15 means that you can be in the sun 15 times longer before burning than you can without sunscreen. We are all individuals and so our tolerance to the sun is also very individual. One person may not start to burn for 20 minutes but another may burn in 5. However, remember no sunscreen blocks 100% of sun rays. SPF 50 blocks 98%, SPF30 blocks 96.7%, SPF15 blocks 93%.

Be mindful that perspiration and medications can alter the effectiveness of the sunscreen. Also take into consideration the fact the UV intensity alters throughout the day. Therefore (using SPF 15 as an example) it is foolish to assume if you normally burn in 10 minutes that if you multiply it by 15 you will obtain a safe limit of exposure. This is not the case. These other factors need to be considered. Always exercise caution in the sun and reapply every 2 hours or as recommended on the product.

Apply the sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before exposure or as recommended on the product. What about UVA Rays?

These rays penetrate as deep as the subcutaneous tissue of the skin. These rays cause damage to collagen and elastin fibres along with all the other delicate structures of the skin, capillaries, fibroblasts, lymphocytes to name a few. The result of UVA ray exposure is a contribution to wrinkles and age spots. UVA rays also pass through window glass! So don’t forget to put sunscreen on the top of your hands before driving.

How do I protect myself from both UVA and UVB rays?

To be protected from both UVA and UVB you need to use a sunscreen labelled "Broad-Spectrum". Look for ingredients such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide which are considered physical barriers by reflecting, scattering or absorbing UVA and UVB rays. Avobenzone or dioxybenzone, oxybenzone or sulisobenzone are said to be UVA absorbing.

But I have sensitive skin!

If you suffer with skin allergies be careful to avoid sunscreens containing alcohol, fragrances or preservatives. In sensitive individuals, skin can easily be irritated by the chemicals in sunscreens, so opt for the products that contain titanium and/or zinc oxide as the actives. They are less likely to irritate and protect without being absorbed.

What is actually happening to our skin when we tan?

The colour of skin and hair is determined by what is known as melanin. It is present in varying degrees in individuals. As the sun penetrates the skin the cells natural protection “melanin” is activated. The more radiation that is absorbed, the more melanin is produced. The melanin rises to the top of the cell to form a dark cap to protect the nucleus of the cell like an umbrella. In simple terms, after UV exposure melanin production increases within the skin, producing a tan. It is actually a sign of the skin trying to protect itself against UV damage. UV Radiation causes damage to DNA within the cells and can result in skin cancer.

I have a healthy glow!

A tan on your skin is a sign of damage, not a healthy glow. As we age, the collagen and elastin fibres of the skin naturally weaken. The weakening is accelerated when the skin is frequently exposed to ultraviolet rays. I have to ask “why would you do that?”

UV exposure is the biggest external cause of pigmentation disorders. Existing pigmentation can be made worse by the sun exposure.

But I have a dark skin tone and I never burn. I don’t need a sunscreen!

Those who are naturally darker in skin tone already have the natural protection of melanin. These darker skins contain much more melanin than fair skins. This does not exclude the possibility of burning but does offer more protection against the harmful rays. Skin cancer is still seen in darker skins and is often left undetected until the cancer is fully advanced. Sunscreen should be worn by all persons fair and dark.

The sun isn’t out today. I won’t need my sunscreen!

Don’t be fooled by overcast skies. Up to 80% of the sun’s rays pass through cloud and fog. Be careful around sand, water and snow as they amplify the sun’s effects. Wear a hat together with your sunscreen and sunglasses to help protect your eyes. Reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if sweating or playing sport or swimming. Check the use-by-date. Out of date, throw it out. At the risk of sounding cliche “Slip, Slop, Slap” and preserve your skin!

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