Protecting your skin from the sun
Most of us enjoy soaking up the warm summer rays, whether it's while having a barbecue with your friends and family, on the beach, or alone in your garden.
But as wonderful as the sunshine is, it's also incredibly dangerous and damaging for your skin, regardless of the forecast on the time of year. That's why it's vital that you keep your skin protected all year round, even on rainy days.
The sun produces two types of Ultra-Violet (UV) Radiation, UVA and UVB. Most of this radiation is absorbed by the Earth's atmosphere, however, some radiation still manages to get through, 99% of which is UVA radiation - the one known responsible for premature ageing.
Due to global warming, the ozone layer is thinning meaning, more UVB radiation is penetrating down to the Earth's surface. This UV radiation is also known to be responsible for skin cancer.
Unfortunately, once the rays penetrate through the Earth's atmosphere there is nothing preventing them from reaching the Earth's surface. Clouds do not block UV rays, which is why it is advised to protect your skin, even on days where you can't even see the sun.
Why is it so important to protect your skin from the sun?
If you don't wear sunscreen your skin will get permanently damaged. Continuous exposure to the sun sensitises your skin, makes you more prone to burning and blistering and breaks down skin elasticity, which leads to the formation of wrinkles and causes cancer. So, it's definitely not worth the risk.
Aside from premature ageing of the skin and painful sunburns, sun damage can pose a real and serious threat to your life. The risk of developing skin cancer increases proportionally to your age when exposed to UV light.
There are 3 types of basic skin cancers, these are known as Basal Cell Carcinoma, Squamous Cell Carcinoma and Melanoma.
1. Basal Cell Carcinoma.
Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer and the most frequently occurring form of all cancers. Basal Cell Carcinoma most often occurs when the DNA is damaged from UV radiation, from the sun and indoor tanning beds. The UV radiation triggers changes in Basal Cells which are found in the outermost layer of the skin, resulting in uncontrolled growth.
Basal Cell Carcinoma can be different from person to person, therefore if you see something new on your skin and are not sure what it is, then book an appointment with your doctor or dermatologist for a quick check.
2. Squamous Cell Carcinoma.
Squamous Cell Carcinoma cancer is related to the damage of squamous cells, one of the three main types of cells that are in the top layer of the skin.
Squamous cells are flat cells located near the surface of the skin that shed continuously as new one's form. Squamous Cell Carcinoma occurs when DNA is damaged from UV Radiation, which triggers abnormal changes in the squamous cells. This cancer can appear as scaly red patches, open sores, rough, thickened or wart-like skin, or raised growths with a central depression. At times Squamous Cell Carcinoma may crust over, itch or even bleed.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. This cancer affects the Melanocyte skin cells which produce a pigment called melanin that gives the skin its colour. There are two types of Melanin, Euthelanin and Pheomelanin.
When your skin is exposed to the sun or tanning beds it triggers the melanocytes to produce more melanin, but only the Eumelanin cell pigment attempts to protect the skin by causing the skin to darken or tan. Melanoma cancer occurs when the skins' DNA is damaged from the UV Radiation triggering mutations in the melanocytes which results in uncontrolled cellular growth.
Melanoma is especially dangerous and common for fair-skinned people. This is because darker skin naturally has more Eumelanin, whereas fair skin has more pheomelanin. Pheomelanin, unlike Eumelanin, does not protect the skin from the sun, which explains why some people burn and others tan. Melanoma presents itself in many different shapes, sizes and colours. That is why it's difficult to find early warning signs. Often this cancer is formed as a flat or slightly raised and discoloured asymmetrical patch with uneven borders. The colour of this cancer includes shades of tan, brown, black, red/pink, blue or white. It can also lack pigment and appear as a pink or skin tone lesion.
So, if you notice or see anything new or different in your skin it's best to get it checked out by a doctor or dermatologist just to be sure. Catching it early gives you the greatest chance of successful skin cancer treatment.
How to stay safe in the sun?
- Choose a good quality sunscreen - Find a sunscreen that has a high SPF concentration. Factor 30 or above.
- Use, apply and reapply sunscreen properly- Apply the sunscreen to your skin as evenly as possible and top it up as regularly as you can, at minimum as recommended in the instructions.
- Cover up - Loose, baggy, thin clothing helps you to stay cool as well as protected from the sun. Make sure to wear sunscreen underneath your clothes too, as clothes do not offer full protection from UV radiation.
- Shield your eyes - Wear sunglasses. You can buy sunglasses that are designed to give your eyes protection from UVA and UVB rays, so it's best to invest in those.
- Wear a hat. Not only does this act as a shade for your eyes, but it also helps to protect the top of your head, ears, face and neck from getting sunburned. It's good for preventing heat stroke too.
- Avoid being out in the sun during peak time Wherever you are in the UK, between 10 am and 4 pm is when the UV light is at its strongest.
- Be careful with your tan - Keep applying sun cream when you are out in the sun. Before going to bed, take a lukewarm shower, then apply some moisturiser or Aloe Vera Gel to help keep your skin cool, hydrated and healthy (this will help to maintain your tan).
- Stay hydrated - Drink lots and lots of water (at least 2 litres a day).
- Perform regular skin checks - Does your skin feel hot to touch, does it feel tender, does it look red? If you experience any of these signs then it's time to reapply your sun cream or preferably get out of the sun.
How to care for your skin if it has been overexposed from the sun, and what can you do to your skin to prevent further damage?
Remember to love your skin as much as you love your summer tan. Take proper steps to protect it and care for it, and you will reduce the risk of sun damage.
- Hydrate your body from the inside out - Drink lots and lots of water. This will help to replenish fluids lost by being out in the heat and help to hydrate the skin.
- Take a cool shower - Make sure the shower is not too hot and not too cold. Lukewarm water is the perfect temperature for your skin, as it doesn't affect the PH of your skin and is the optimum temperature to help get rid of toxins and pollution on your skin.
- Hydrate your skin - Use the most hydrating moisturiser you can find. This will help to replenish the natural oils as well as reverse any water loss to your skin that occurs when you sweat.
- Try Aloe Vera - You can buy this anywhere, but the best source is from the leaf of the Aloe plant. Take a leaf, slice down the middle and scoop the gel out into a bowl. Mash the gel until it has very few lumps before placing it in the fridge for a couple of hours. Finally, apply the cool gel to your skin that has been exposed to the sun. The Aloe Vera gel will instantly cool the skin as well as act as an anti-inflammatory remedy that will help heal the skin and prevent further damage.
Are there any benefits to sitting out in the sun?
As we all know too much of anything is bad for you, especially too much sun exposure. However, there is no need to avoid the sun entirely as it does have some benefits.
Exposure to the sun produces Vitamin D, which has several important functions for your overall health, including natural growth and development of bones and teeth, resistance against certain diseases and organ functions and health support.
Bear in mind that protecting your skin from the sun does not stop your skin and body from absorbing some of the goodness the sun provides, and there are other sources of Vitamin D, so don't use this as an excuse to not protect your skin.
Overall it is important to enjoy the sun, but always do so whilst keeping your skin protected. Don't let sun-damaged skin ruin your summer.