Protecting your skin from the sun
By Amina Abdul Salam
The sun affects the skin in several ways, moreover exposure to the sun causes most of the skin changes associated with ageing. Protecting the skin from the sun is the single most important skin care practice you can adopt. Significant exposure to the sun will wrinkle and dry the skin.
Uneven pigmentation from freckles to small or large brown spots is another side effect of frequent sunning. Melasma, commonly associated with pregnancy, is brought out by the sun and produces large brown patches on the forehead and cheeks. The most serious consequence of sun exposure is skin cancer.
Sunscreen, also known as sun block, sun cream or suntan lotion, is a lotion, spray, gel or other topical product that absorbs or reflects some of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation and thus helps protect against sunburn.
Diligent use of sunscreen can also slow or temporarily prevent the development of wrinkles, moles and sagging skin.
Depending on the mode of action, sunscreens can be classified into physical sunscreens (i.e., those that reflect the sunlight) or chemical sunscreens (i.e., those that absorb the UV light).
What sunscreen should I use? Dr Mohamed Hussein Abou Hadeed, Consultant and Assistant Researcher of Dermatology, Venereology and Andrology in the National Research Centre (NRC), recommends everyone to use sunscreen that offer the following:
• Broad-spectrum protection (protects against UVA and UVB rays)
• Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30 or greater Preferably SPF 50+ or SPF 100
• Water resistance
A sunscreen that offers the above helps to protect the skin from sunburn, early skin ageing, and skin cancer. However, sunscreen alone cannot fully protect the skin. To protect skin, Dr Abou Hadeed recommends the following:
• Generously apply the sunscreen to dry skin 15 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply it approximately every two hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating.
• Wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses, where possible.
• Seek shade when appropriate, remembering that the sun’s rays are strongest between 10 am and 2 pm
• Use extra caution near water, snow and sand as they reflect the damaging rays of the sun, which can increase your chance of sunburn.
• Get vitamin D safely through a healthy diet that may include vitamin supplements.
• Avoid tanning beds. Ultraviolet light from the sun and tanning beds can cause skin cancer and wrinkling. If you want to look tanned, consider using a self-tanning product, but continue to use sunscreen with it.
• Check your skin or visit your dermatologist if you notice anything changing, growing, or bleeding on your skin. Skin cancer is very treatable when caught early.
Using sunscreen, seeking shade and wearing protective clothing are all important behaviours to reduce your risk of sunburn, skin ageing and cancer.
Dr. Abou Hadeed confirmed that scientific evidence supports the benefits of using sunscreen to minimise short-term and long-term damage to the skin from the sun’s rays. Preventing skin cancer and sunburn outweigh any unproven claims of toxicity or human health hazard from ingredients in sunscreens.
What type of sunscreen should I use?
The kind of sunscreen you choose is a matter of personal choice, and may vary depending on the area of the body to be protected. Available sunscreen options include lotions, creams, gels, ointments, wax sticks and sprays.
• Creams are best for dry skin and the face.
• Fluid, emulsion and gel are best for oily skin.
• Gels are good for hairy areas, such as the scalp or male chest.
• Sprays are sometimes preferred by parents since they are easy to apply to children.
• There also are sunscreens made for specific purposes, such as for sensitive skin and babies six months of age or older.