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What you need to know about sun protection

Published:Wednesday | March 27, 2019 | 12:06 AM

Sunlight consists of infrared, visible, and ultraviolet (UV-A & UV-B) light. It provides light, warmth and helps plants to grow and helps our skin make vitamin D.

However, it can also cause the following harmful effects:


* Sunburn

* Tanning

* Sun allergies


* Skin ageing – increased pigmentation, wrinkles, coarse texture, loss of elasticity, and prominent blood vessels

* Skin cancer

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, sunscreen is a substance that you put on your skin to prevent it from being damaged by the sun. There is a myth that individuals with darker skin types do not need to use sunscreen. Studies have shown that most persons with skin of colour still do not use or seldom use sunscreen.

It is true that darker skin types have a natural asset with increased melanin, the main substance that gives the skin its colour. However, melanin does not protect against all sun damage. Skin ageing and skin cancer affect all skin types.

In humans, the regular use of sunscreens has been shown to reduce skin cancer, skin ageing, and disorders of hyperpigmentation (dark spots). Sunscreen is considered the ‘best anti-ageing secret’, which should not be a secret!

Not all sunscreens are created equal. Some sunscreens leave a white film on the skin, are greasy, messy and/or irritating. However, some newer preparations promote the fact that they do not clog pores, are oil-free and tinted to mask the white colour.


There are two main types of sunscreens:

* PHYSICAL sunscreens work like a shield on your skin, deflecting the sun’s rays. Look for the active ingredients zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Choose these sunscreens if you have sensitive skin, since they don’t usually cause skin irritation or allergy. Sunscreens with iron oxide, tinted make-up and zinc oxide paste protect against the sun’s ultraviolet and visible light rays.

* CHEMICAL sunscreens work like a sponge, absorbing sunlight. Common chemical ingredients include oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate. Some of these products may cause irritation or allergy, especially in persons with sensitive skin.

Some older sunscreens (for example, PABA) were shown in lab to possibly increase cancer risk, but this has not been found in humans. Numerous studies prove that sunscreens reduce the risk of skin cancer.

Concerns have been raised about some chemical sunscreens (for example, oxybenzone) causing damage to coral reefs. The evidence is still being examined, and some doubt the validity of some data.

The United States Food and Drug Administration has recently proposed new regulations that may require further tests on sunscreens. Among other things, they propose that only zinc oxide and titanium dioxide remain classified as generally recognised as safe and effective (GRASE) for use in sunscreens at concentrations of up to 25 per cent.

We should all practise sun protection by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing and generously applying broad spectrum, water-resistant sunscreens with SPF sun protection factor) of at least 30. This includes repeat application every two hours when outdoors and every 40 to 80 minutes after swimming.

Spread the word!

Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas. Email