We lather our little ones in sunscreen when stepping outside. But perhaps we’ve lost the way when looking after our own skin. We know that it’s so important to wear sunscreen – but why?
The sun gives plenty of benefits to the human body
Sunlight can lower blood pressure, build the immune system and even cure depression. However, its UV rays can be deadly, causing various skin cancers and initiate premature aging.
UV radiation is invisible sun rays that damage the skin’s cellular DNA. Too much exposure to the sun can cause several changes to your skin: the outer layers of your skin can become blistered and easily grazed, or even tear due to sun damage. Skin becomes thicker and looses the ability to retain moisture leading to the inner layers loosing elasticity.
There are two main types of UV rays that cause different types of damage to our skin, UVA and UVB
Ultraviolet A Rays (UVA)
UVA gives longer wavelengths equaling up to 95% of the sun’s rays that touch the earth. These wavelengths are able to penetrate the deeper levels of our skin causing it to age, sag and wrinkle. But that’s not even the worst part! UVA rays are able to hit the earth everyday of the year, and they are able to break through glass and clouds. Most car and office widows are able to block the rays from damaging your skin but some are unable to. However, studies show that UV radiations through windows are unlikely to damage your skin unless you spend a lot of time by the window. If you’re still worried, you can invest in tinted windows that are able to block out radiation.
Ultraviolet B Rays (UVB)
UVB rays are medium wavelengths that affects the skin surface. These rays are what causes burning.
The good news is UVB intensity varies on the time of day, location and season. You can monitor the strength of the sun in your region to take the proper precautions using an online UV Index. It is also impossible for it to break through glass so you’re protected inside.
However, it can still burn and damage your skin year round as and and when the earth’s axis is closer to the sun. UVB can also reflect off surfaces such as snow and ice so you’re not immune to sun damage in the winter. It actually makes it twice as likely that your skin will burn this time of year in these conditions.
Constant sun exposure, especially sunburn, can lead to many forms of skin changes, including cancer.
From the moment we have sun exposure (even as babies) the sun can damage the skin and there is the potential for abnormalities to develop. Signs of sun damage include freckles, darker spots and an increase in the presence of moles. Similarly, moles that have constant exposure to the sun are more likely to develop cancer too.
On the topic of moles, these are colour pigments in your skin that are made up of cells called melanocytes.
Moles can be present from birth, develop over time or can be caused by the sun. You are more likely to develop moles if they are common in your family.
They can come in all shapes and sizes but mainly react to hormonal changes. Only 10% of the population has cancerous moles but you should always check your moles for swelling, bleeding, itchiness and changes in colour, shape and size and discuss any abnormalities with your GP.
Freckles too can be hereditary or developed by the sun. When caused by the sun it is an increase in the production of cells called melanin (the pigmentation of the skin) as a way of your skin trying to protect itself from the suns harmful rays.
Although these are not harmful, they are more common in those with fairer skin and if you’re particularly prone to developing freckles, will put you at a higher risk of sun damage and skin cancer. So, avoiding the sun where possible and wearing a high factor SPF to protect your skin is particularly important. As with moles, freckles should be monitored for any changes and any suspected changes discussed with a doctor.
You can’t reverse skin damage caused by the sun
Unfortunately, there is no way to reverse the damage the sun does to our skin. So it is extremely important to constantly protect your skin as well as your families. Be sure to wear sunscreen everyday and avoid being out when the sun is at its most powerful.
However, there are some skincare products and treatments that can help with some skin damage. Moisturisers, eye creams and serums, provide a cheaper alternative to therapy with some having active ingredients in that benefit and aid in repairing sun damage:
- Vitamin C reduces the appearance of brown spots and other sun damage by repairing skin’s natural healing response.
- Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant that protects a cell’s DNA and prevents cell damage caused by sunlight.
- DNA Repair Enzymes found in sea plankton or plankton extract is proven to undo DNA damage from UV exposure. Studies show it can reduce UVB radiation damage by 45% and increases UV protection by 300%.
How you can protect yourself
UV radiation is present all year round and changes the structure of our skin by attacking our body’s cells. In addition to wearing sunscreen every day and applying frequently throughout the day in the summer, we should wear protective dark, and tightly woven clothing, hats to protect our face, ears and scalp, and sunglasses to protect our eyes and the sensitive skin around them. Furthermore, it’s best to seek shade or stay indoors between 11am and 3pm, when UV light is the strongest.