It is the beginning of our favourite season, summer. This is a time synonymous with fun and the outdoors; the park, the garden and the beach. But in our pursuit of fun and relaxation, we often get too much sun and as a consequence damage our skin, making ourselves look older than we are.
Skin is our cover, our protection and the largest of all our organs. Our skin is like a screen which protects us from the elements and it acts as a temperature regulator. It consists of layers, known as the epidermis, the dermis and the subcutaneous layer. The thinnest is the epidermis and it is what gets thinner as we get older. It is the layer which reflects our health and it is what we show to the world, together with its wrinkles, freckles or other imperfections.
One of the functions of skin is to convert the sun's UV rays into Vitamin D which helps strengthen bones. The sun also helps a variety of skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis and even acne. It also helps us feel good, which reduces stress. Sun is good for us, at least in small, regulated amounts. However, too much sun is creates damage and premature ageing. Sunburn and even having a suntan shows that there has been some damage to the skin. It is important to regulate the amount of time spent under the sun and which hours are spent under the sun. Depending on where you live, the hours before 10am and after 4 or 5pm are quite safe. The hours inbetween however, are very damaging to skin if you stay out for too long. When you do stay out in the sun between these hours, you need to be sensible. In Australia, where we are subjected to a very fierce sun, there is a very well-known campaign of slip, slop, slap. Slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen and slap on a hat. This is the basics of simple sun protection. This will help lessen and prevent skin damage, premature ageing and skin cancer.
There are 3 types of UV rays; UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays are the ones that contribute to tanning but also to wrinkles and ageing with the activation of free radicals. UVB rays are the ones that cause freckles, ageing spots and sunburn. Although most of the rays only get to the epidermis, around 10% of these UVB rays can penetrate the dermis layer of skin. These cause deterioration of the collagen fibres which affects skin tone (also known as elastin), thereby also contributing to ageing. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer. They also cause eye damage by forming cataracts and they suppress the immune system. UVC rays are the most damaging but are filtered by the ozone layer. Tanning (according to the skin cancer foundation http://www.skincancer.org/) is a sign that the skin has been damaged; UVA rays damage the DNA of skin cells and the skin darkens so as to prevent further damage, and this is what we refer to as a tan.
Skin cancer is a now a very common disease in many countries, from Australia and New Zealand, to the United States and even Europe. Damage from the sun can lead to skin cancer. Research shows that when the skin has a history of sunburn (even just 6 times) the rate of skin cells developing melanoma (malignant or non-malignant) is doubled. Cancer research UK (http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/) states that getting a painful sunburn every 2 years triples the likelihood of developing skin cancer. Solariums are very dangerous as well. They produce UV rays which are 10-15 times stronger than the strong midday sun.
So what do we do? We want to spend some time outside, we want to go to the beach, but we need to do it safely. Avoid midday sun or use a sunscreen and reapply it often, especially if you sweat a lot or go swimming. However, we need to be aware of the chemicals in sunscreens and the concern of those chemical being carcinogenic. But there are natural sunscreens which use the minerals zinc oxide or titanium dioxide to block the sun. Do your research and read the ingredients list before you buy. According to the skin cancer foundation (http://www.skincancer.org/), SPF 15 filters 93% of UV rays, while SPF 30 filters out 97% of UV rays. We need a sunscreen which filters out both UVA and UVB. Make sure babies of less than 6 months are not exposed to much direct sunlight as they do not have the protection of melanin in their skins. Babies over 6 months should have a broad spectrum sun block applied. It is important to teach children good sun habits at a young age and there are many clothes available now with UV filters especially for children and the beach. Try to cover up as much as possible with fabrics which are densely woven and bright or dark coloured. Also, wear a hat and protective sunglasses.
Stay tuned for the next post which will be on aromatherapy for summer skincare.