Tue | Jun 15, 2021

Protect your skin from the sun

Published:Wednesday | April 18, 2012 | 12:00 AM

It's the time of year when we make plans to have lots of fun in the sun. We should, therefore, be aware of the effects of sunlight on our skin and find ways to protect it. The truth is that whether we live in a hot or cold climate and whether we plan to spend all day out in the sun, we are still all exposed to sunlight. Therefore, sun protection is something we should practise daily, from infancy to adulthood, regardless of race.

Sunlight provides visible light, warmth and helps plants grow. It helps our skin make vitamin D and it has also been found to be mood lifting. However, it does contain two harmful types of light rays called ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). Ultraviolet rays can pass through clouds and can be reflected by sand, water and even snow. UVA rays can pass through glass windows.

Sunlight can cause short-term effects such as sunburn, tanning and can worsen or trigger some skin rashes. It is also the main cause of the long-term effects of premature skin ageing and skin cancer. Individuals with fairer skin types are at greater risk of sun damage. This is so because these individuals have less melanin and also have different types of melanin in their skin. Melanin is the main pigment that gives the skin its colour and helps to protect our skin from UV light. However, everyone is still at risk of sun damage and so everyone should practise sun protection.

Use SPF 30

All persons, regardless of skin type, should use a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of ideally at least 30. The SPF tells us how well the sunscreen protects us from UVB rays. 'Broad-spectrum' indicates protection from UVA rays as well as UVB.

Sunscreens should be used daily, 30 minutes before going outdoors. They should be applied generously to all exposed areas and reapplied every few hours and after swimming or excessive sweating. Even 'water-resistant' sunscreens may last only 40 minutes. As of this summer, because of new rules by the US Food and Drug Administration, sunscreen manufacturers will have to ensure that they adequately label sunscreens.

Protective clothing

The American Academy of Dermatology's guidelines on sun protection include wearing protective clothing, such as long-sleeve shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses where possible. Individuals should seek shade when appropriate, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., and use extra caution near water, sand and snow.

People should not seek the sun for vitamin D but can acquire it safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements. Tanning beds should be avoided, since they can cause skin cancer and skin ageing. Individuals should check their skin for anything changing, growing or bleeding, and see a dermatologist if necessary, since skin cancer is curable if detected early. It's never too late to practise sun protection as we enjoy our tropical climate. Sunscreen, anyone?

Dr Arusha Campbell-Chambers is a dermatologist and founder of Dermatology Solutions Skin Clinics & Medi-Spas; email: yourhealth@gleanerjm.com.