Long term exposure to the sun damages the skin. More than 1 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed in the United States every year. Many studies have found an association between sunburns and enhanced risk for melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Long term sun exposure also causes premature ageing of the skin; in fact 90 percent of wrinkles age spots and sagging are a direct result of sun damage. So today’s beautiful bronzed tan could be tomorrow’s crow’s feet.
We are now entering the hottest months in the year in Cayman using sun screen is an essential.
Elizabeth Fraser pharmacist at Healthcare pharmacy says ,“ We see people coming in with terrible burns which could have been prevented by using sun screen.”
Sunscreens work in different ways to protect us against the rays of the sun. They can have a chemical or physical sun filter or have a mixture of the two.
Chemical filters penetrate the skin and absorb the sun’s rays so they don’t reach down into the lower layers of skin and cause damage.
Physical filters lay a thin membrane on top of the skin that reflects the sun’s rays back. A physical filter is often slightly coloured, such as zinc oxide which is white.
A sun lotion that protects against both ultraviolet type B (UVB) radiation and ultraviolet type A (UVA) radiation offers the best protection. ( These creams are called ‘broad spectrum’ sunscreens. UVB rays burn the topmost layer of skin, causing sunburn and cell damage that can lead to cancerous changes.
Sun protection factor (SPF) measures the strength of a cream’s sun filter against UVB rays.
SPF stands for sun protection factor. Sunscreens are rated or classified by the strength of their SPF. The SPF numbers on the packaging can range from as low as 2 to greater than 50. These numbers refer to the product’s ability to deflect the sun’s burning rays (UVB).
The sunscreen SPF rating is calculated by comparing the amount of time needed to produce a sunburn on sunscreen-protected skin to the amount of time needed to cause a sunburn on unprotected skin. For example, if a sunscreen is rated SPF 2 and a person who would normally turn red after 10 minutes of expo-sure in the sun uses it, it would take 20 minutes of exposure for the skin to turn red
Sunscreens with a high SPF factor should not lead to you staying in the sun for longer, since you’ll be exposed to more UVA rays.
UVA rays don’t burn, but penetrate deep into the skin. They are responsible for cell damage that contributes to ageing and skin cancer.
UVA stars indicate the strength of a cream’s protection against UVA rays in relation to its UVB protection.
This means the higher the SPF, the more UVA protection is needed to achieve the same amount of stars.
So an SPF 30 sunscreen with three stars will have more UVA protection than an SPF 15 sunscreen with four stars.
Pharmacist Fraser says that the factor you choose depends on extent of exposure to the sun and your skin tone.
For instance she says “if you are a fair skinned person going to the beach for a couple of hours you should wear at least a factor 50.”
However a German study published last year suggests that the spectrum of sun damage is wider than previously suspected and even the high factor, broad spectrum sun tan creams might not be enough to protect against damage. Infrared radiation may also release free radicals and accelerates ageing. While UVA rays account for only 6.8 percent of solar light, infrared, which we mainly experience as the heat of the sun, makes up 54.3 percent. How much skin damage infrared does remains to be seen but according some skin specialists, traditional sunscreens, which only block UV, don’t protect from the sun’s total oxidative toll.
When skin absorbs solar energy (whether UV or infrared), renegade photons cause a burst of free radicals—short-lived atoms or molecules that have lost an electron, making them unstable and bound to damage any proteins or genes that get in their way. Antioxidants—including vitamins A, C, and E, green tea, and pomegranate—have the unique ability to donate an electron to a free radical, stabilizing it without destabilizing themselves.
Some sunscreen manufacturers are now starting to add these ingredients to their sun cream preparations. If you can’t find sun creams containing these ingredients still use a high factor cream. Sunscreen should also have at least four UVA stars.
What’s the difference between UVA and UVB rays?
Five stars gives 90 per cent of the UVB protection.
Four stars is 80 per cent.
Three stars gives 60 per cent.
Two stars is 40 per cent.
One star is 20 per cent.
UVA stars indicate the strength of a cream’s protection against UVA rays in relation to its UVB protection
Waterproof or water-repellent?
If you are in and out of the water a lot , you need to make sure that your sun lotion is either water-repellent or waterproof.
A waterproof sunscreen withstands 4 x 20 minutes of swimming without being washed off.
These figures only apply if you let yourself air-dry and don’t use a towel. It is therefore always a good idea to rub on a layer of cream after going for a dip.
Apply cream thickly and often: many people use only a third of the amount of cream they need to achieve the SPF on the bottle. This means they are far less protected than they think.
An adult should apply a handful of sun cream, equivalent to 30 to 40g. This equals about two tablespoons.
A child needs about 20g to cover the whole body.
Sun lotion takes time to work, so you need to apply cream half an hour before going out into the sun.
It should also be reapplied regularly as it starts to degrade in the sun.
Children should also be covered with light clothing, while babies under 12 months should not stay in the sun at all.
Keep sun lotion in a shady and cool place when not in use, ideally in the refrigerator
If you do burn Fraser says go to your pharmacist for a recommendation .At Healthcare they sell over the counter aloe products for mild sunburn but if it very red and inflamed they recommend a steroid based cream .
Reversing the signs of sun damage
Most skin therapists are strict on the no sun tanning rule, and Keri Goldinger, laser therapist at the Da Vinci Centre, is no exception. “Sometimes I feel like a broken record saying to people to wear sun tan block of 30 SPF and ideally wear a hat too. It just does not sink in with people at first and you have to keep repeating it”.
Skin therapists are the people that see the damage that the sun has wrought over the years, so it is no wonder they keep trying to get the message out there.
Keri says damage can vary depending on the amount of sun exposure over the years. One of the first signs is hyper pigmentation which can appear as either a few brown spots here and there, or patches anywhere on the body.
She says you sometimes find more spots on the side of people’s faces where the sun hits them when they are driving. “People tend to forget to apply sun cream when they are driving because they think they are safe because they are in a car but you still need to apply it.”
She says in adults a lot of the damage has been done before they are 18 but does not start to show up until your 30s or 40. After that if you keep tanning and do not use a sun block then the damage become accumulative.
Is there such a thing as a safe tan? Keri’s answer is an emphatic “no”. She is constantly astonished that people still do it when they know the long-term effects; she says in the short term a tan may look beautiful but in the long term people usually regret it.
However there are treatments that can minimise the signs of sun damage.
Microdermabrasion is the mildest treatment; in this procedure the skin is exfoliated removing the dead cells to reveal a fresher looking skin. It can minimise the appearance of fine lines and brown spots.
Chemical peels go a bit deeper. They can vary from mild to medical grade depending on a person’s skin.
Keri says, “All peels use natural ingredients, it’s the percentage you use that determines the strength of the peel.”
A chemical peel will help with hyperpigmentation and fine lines.
Keri says when someone comes for the first time for a treatment she will find out as much as she can about how their skin behaves to determine treatment .“With chemical peels I always start of at a low percentage then build up gradually.”
The most powerful anti ageing treatment is laser, which is effective for hyper pigmentation and skin tightening. Keri says most people will find that they can use laser.
The two treatments are completely different as Keri explains. “With hyper pigmentation we’re targeting small areas, whereas with the skin tightening it is all over the face neck and chest.”
Laser stimulates the production of collagen which decreases with age. The laser heats the skin stimulating the production of new collagen.
Keri reiterates that even though laser is effective in tightening skin and reducing the signs of ageing, that the first line of defence is wearing a sun screen with a SPF of 30 or higher.