We all know that using sun protection is important, we have heard it over and over again. Even with that, it is difficult to get most people to pay attention because the damage from sunlight is not immediately visible.
Well if you were thinking to yourself ”how bad could it really be? Ask this truck driver and guess which side of his face was exposed to direct sunlight over 30 years.
Yep, its that bad.
Although I live in a perpetually sunny country, sun protection is not something most people think about. Most people believe that having dark skin is enough protection against the suns rays. While certainly much better than other skin types it still does not provide adequate protection from the sun. Research suggests that dark skin provides a Sun Protection Factor(SPF) of approximately 13.4 while an SPF of at least 30 is needed daily for adequate sun protection. Despite this, the myth that dark skin is immune to sun damage or cancer still persists and is known as the sunscreen gap. This has become increasingly important due to exposure to UV rays (Ultraviolet) from the depleting ozone layer
Sure the effects of constant exposure to sunlight may not be as dramatic as in the picture in the short term. But over time if you do not use sun protection you will wake up one morning and wonder why your skin feels like a leather sofa.
Apart from cosmetic issues like premature ageing and no one wants that. Exposure to sunlight and UV (ultraviolet) rays can cause skin cancer. Although skin cancer is not usually a major problem with darker skinned people with the depletion of ozone layer UV rays seem to be more intense.
Type of UV rays
There are two types of UV rays that damage to the skin, UVA rays and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate to the deeper layers of skin, causing premature ageing and wrinkles. While UVB rays cause sunburn and darkening of the upper layers of the skin.
The most effective way to protect the skin from UV rays and prevent premature ageing is by wearing sun protection every day. Sun protection factor(SPF) is a measure of how well a sunscreen will protect your skin against ultraviolet B rays. SPF ratings are usually found on the bottle and sunscreens with higher SPF ratings block more UVB rays, however, none gives 100% protection.
Because the SPF number does not account for UVA rays which penetrate deeper into the skin, it is important to use a broad spectrum sunscreen which protects you from both UVA and UVB rays.
Now we know why we need to use sunscreen let’s talk about the types of sunscreens available.
Types of sunscreen
There are two types of sunscreens physical and chemical
Physical sunscreens act as a physical barrier between the sun and your skin and work by reflecting the sun’s rays preventing them from penetrating your skin. Because physical sunscreens form a physical barrier on your skin, there is often a white or greyish cast. This cast is usually visible on dark skin which is one of the most common complaints. However, because physical sunscreens don’t penetrate the skin they are to your clog pores. Making it ideal for those with acne and acne prone skin.
Another benefit of using a physical sunscreen is that they are effective immediately after application to your skin. Most Physical sunscreens are also broad spectrum so protects from UVA and UVB rays but may become ineffective when you sweat since they are not water resistant. Physical sunscreens typically contain zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide.
Chemical sunscreens on the other hand work by absorbing the sun’s rays and UV radiation. Thus preventing them from penetrating the skin releasing heat as they break down. Because they are able to penetrate the skin chemical sunscreens irritate the skin. However, unlike physical sunscreen, chemical sunscreens appear colourless on the skin and are only effective 20 minutes after application. Chemical sunscreen contains Avobenzone, Octisalate, Oxybenzone, Homosalate and Helioplex.
Sunscreens are only effective if they are used daily and consistently.
Signs of sun damage
The signs of sun-damage are varied and depend on the degree and length of exposure and include
- Sunburns although these may last only a few days, repeated sunburns lead to cumulative damage on the skin and problems later in life
- Age spots also called liver spots which are more common in lighter skin and of varying sizes and tend to get darker with age.
- Wrinkles laugh lines, crow’s feet — these are the most visible signs of sun damage and are caused by the weakening of the underlying fibres that support the skin.
- Atypical moles these are very common and even more important is to watch for changes to them like increase in size, irregular border or bleeding. Which may signify a change from benign to cancerous.
How to prevent sun damage
Wear sunscreen all day every day, even on days that are overcast and cloudy because the UV rays are still present with or without sunlight. It is also advisable to avoid the sun when it is at its peak between 10.00.am and 4.00 pm.
Alternatively, following the shadow rule: “Short Shadow- Seek Shade.” This is because the intensity of UV rays is directly related to the angle of the sun. The shadow rule correctly identifies that when a person’s shadow is short the UV rays are more intense and more likely to cause sunburn.
Wear protective clothing and stay in the shade as much as possible .The best protective clothes are loose with tightly woven fabrics and darker colors tend to more protection. The value of a wide-brimmed hat can also not be over emphasized as it protects the head, face and neck.
Which of these preventive habits to you follow consistently? Do you use your sunscreen daily? what are some of your favourites? Let me know in the comments.
This article was first posted on Beauty In Lagos in July 2018