The Sun has been romanticised throughout the ages and was even worshipped by ancient civilisations, its force being recognised as the ultimate giver of life. As science has progressed, we have discovered just how important direct sunlight can be for our health. Its role in the production of vitamin D (an essential element that ensures the growth of healthy bones and strong teeth) is a case in point. However, the technological advances that have allowed us to break sunlight down into its component parts have also enabled us to ascertain the sun’s negative effects on health and the dangers of over-exposure.
The sun gives off ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is divided into categories based on wavelength, which is measured in nanometers (nm). UVC radiation is absorbed by the atmosphere and does not cause skin damage. UVB (290-320nm) radiation largely affects the outer layer of skin (the epidermis) and is the primary agent responsible for sunburn. This form of radiation does not penetrate glass and its intensity depends on the time of day and the season. UVA (320-400nm) radiation penetrates more deeply into the skin and its intensity is more constant than UVB. It is not filtered by glass and does not experience diurnal variation. Exposure to UVA and UVB from sunlight accounts for 90 per cent of the symptoms of premature skin ageing, such as wrinkles and skin cancer.
But how does this science behind the sun’s effect on skin translate into practical realities, particularly if you are resident in the UAE and are likely to receive a great deal of exposure even when going about your daily business? Certainly, if you are not using a sunscreen, you should avoid the sun around mid-day, as this is when it is most potent. If you do venture into strong sunlight, whatever the time of day, ensure you are wearing protective clothing that covers your skin. Wide-brimmed hats are also important to provide shade for the face, shoulders and nape of the neck.
Many of us, however, will still choose to expose our bodies to the sun’s rays, perhaps when we head to the great beaches and other open spaces that we have in this part of the world. With the weather at this time of year perfect for such activities, it is imperative that sunscreen is used to when the skin is exposed to prevent damage. Sunscreen is the most important skin-care product available to prevent both wrinkles and skin cancer, but its correct use is vital. With this in mind, here are 10 essential pointers you should consider when applying a sunscreen lotion, cream or spray:
1- Get to know your personal skin phototype (SPT), which will determine how likely you are to burn. There are six different skin phototypes: people with SPT1 and SPT2 are at one end of the spectrum and burn easily with short exposure; they either never tan, or tan with difficulty. SPT3 types have some sunburn with short exposures, but can develop marked tanning over time. SPT4 persons tan with ease and do not sunburn with short exposure. Persons with constitutive brown skin are termed SPT5 and those with black skin, SPT6.
2- A good broad-spectrum sunscreen should have an SPF of at least 15 and contain avobenzone, titanium dioxide, or zinc oxide. A sunscreen with an SPF of 15 provides protection against 93 per cent of UVB rays, while one with an SPF of 30 provides 97 per cent protection. An SPF factor of 15-30 should therefore be adequate, irrespective of skin type.
3- Most people do not use sunscreen correctly and miss important areas of the body that can be easily burnt, such as the hands and feet. The lotion or spray should be applied liberally enough to all sun-exposed areas so that it forms a film. A sunscreen with built-in moisturiser may be required for those with sensitive, dry skin.
4- It takes 20-30 minutes for a sunscreen to be absorbed by the skin, so it should be applied at least a half an hour before venturing out in sunlight. If you wait until you are already outside and your skin shows signs of redness, then it is already being damaged.
5- If other skin products are being used, the sunscreen should be the last to be applied, especially on the face. This is because some sunscreens break down in the presence of the water contained in water-based foundations and moisturisers.
6- Most instructions on sunscreen labels recommend reapplying sunscreen ‘frequently,’ but this is a vague and subjective definition. Sunscreens should be applied every two to three hours throughout the daylight period, with additional applications after bathing or excessive sweating. Using a sunscreen in this manner has been shown to be more effective in preventing skin damage than using a higher SPF factor cream less frequently.
7- No sunscreen is truly waterproof. They can be water-resistant, but even these creams need to be reapplied every few hours, or according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
8- No sunscreen really provides all-day protection. Even creams with an SPF of 50+ should be reapplied every two hours, or more frequently if you have been in the water, or have been sweating a lot.
9- Clouds don’t block the UV rays that cause sunburn, so you can still become sunburned even when the sun is obscured. UV rays can also be reflected off of water, sand, snow, and concrete, so you can even become sunburnt in the shade!
1o- Insect repellents reduce the sunscreen’s SPF by up to one-third. When using sunscreen and insect repellent together, a higher SPF should be used and the lotion reapplied more often.
“Life is very short, try everything you’ve dreamed about
(within the perimeters of sanity and the law) and regret nothing.
Oh, and don’t forget the sunscreen.”