The skin is a wonderful record keeper! every time you expose your skin to daylight, your skin adds up all those times like money in the bank! – the trouble is eventually the payoff catches up with you!, in the form of premature ageing, wrinkles and hyper-pigmentation and the risk of skin cancers.
This world wide issue reinforces that the best defence is to limit daylight exposure and protect the skin with sunscreen at all times.
The Electromagnetic Spectrum
Sunlight is comprised of different wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation. About 35% of the spectrum is called visible light, with 60% of infra-red range (felt as heat) and 5% is made up of ultraviolet (UV) rays. It is this whole UV range that we must concern ourselves with.
How UV light is absorbed in your skin
How deep do the UV rays penetrate your skin?
UVC radiation is potentially the most damaging as it is very energetic, fortunately for us UVC is absorbed by oxygen and ozone in the stratosphere and never reaches the earth’s surface, if it did we wouldn’t exist!
UVA rays are the longest rays in the spectrum, and they penetrate deeper into the skin. UVA rays are responsible for causing the damage at a cellular level, making them responsible for most skin cancers and the main cause of the signs of ageing in the form of wrinkles and discolouration. UVA is present all year round, even in wintertime!, 80-90 % of the ageing we see on our skin is down to environmental factors.
UVB rays are shorter than UVA rays, and cause the burn or tan effect in the skin. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause cancer, so wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen with antioxidants is absolutely essential!
Damage to the Epidermis
The skin’s response to the sun can be seen initially as erythema (redness of the skin). This is a result of the inflammatory response and dilation of the blood vessels in the dermis. This is due to the cell damage and the repair process.
Erythema generally appears two to six hours after you’ve exposed your skin. The redder your skin gets the more damage you’ve inflicted on your skin.
UVB rays are the most effective at generating erythema, that is why they are often referred to as the burning rays.
The sun and daylight also increase:
- Cell proliferation and thickening of the stratum corneum
- Dehydration as the lack of moisture in the stratum corneum leads to gaps in the skin’s barrier, leaking moisture and causing skin to flake.
- Sun exposure decreases the skin’s Hyaluronic acid content which can lead to a lack of volume in the skin.
- Hyper or Hypo pigmentation can also result.
- Following the initial erethema or sunburn, the skin responds by producing Melanin, which gives the tan appearance. Your tan is a sign of skin damage.
Collagen Breakdown and changes to Elastin
In the dermis, UV radiation causes Collagen to breakdown at a higher rate than with just chronological ageing. Sunlight damages collagen fibres and causes the accumulation of abnormal elastin. When this sun induced elastin accumulates, enzymes called Matrix Metalloproteinase’s are produced in large quantities.
Changes in the Dermal Blood Vessels
UV radiation causes the walls of blood vessels to become thinner leading to minor trauma in sun-exposed areas. Venous lakes can result on the lips and broken capillaries on the face and chest area.
Free Radicals generated
UV radiation is one of the major creators of Free Radicals. Always make sure the sun protection you have chosen contains Antioxidants in its formulation, they greatly enhance the protection against sun damage.
DNA Repair Inhibited
UV radiation affects the repair of damaged DNA. UVB is thought to cause the damage and UVA inhibits the repair process. So it is a double hit on the repair ability of the DNA in our cells.
Immune System Affected
The body has a defence system to attack developing cancer cells. These immune system factors include white blood cells, the T Lymphocytes and specialised skin cells called Langherhan cells. When the skin is exposed to sunlight, certain chemicals are released that suppress these immune cells and UVB is known to destroy Langerhan cells. An SPF 15 is proven to protect the Langherhan cells, that is why it is always recommended as a minimum.
Cell Death Prevention
The last line of defence of the immune system is a process called Apoptosis. Apoptosis is a process of cell suicide that kills severely damaged cells so they cannot become cancerous. This cell suicide is seen when you peel after a sunburn. There are certain factors, including UV exposure, that prevent this cell death allowing cells to continue to divide and possibly become cancerous.
The Carcinogenic Effects
The carcinogenic effect of ultraviolet exposure may be diagnosed as various forms of skin cancer. Skin cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up the skin. Normally, skin cells grow and divide to form new cells. Every day skin cells grow old and die, and new cells take their place.
Sometimes this orderly process goes wrong. New cells form when the skin does not need them and old cells do not die when they should. The DNA is also effected and these extra cells form a mass of tissue called a growth or tumour. Growth or tumours can be benign or malignant. If you notice any suspicious lesion or skin disorder, you should immediately seek a doctors attention for a diagnosis.
Melanomas start from moles so it’s a good idea to check for any changes in your moles. Any mole that bleeds, changes its size, shape, colour, texture or sensation should be checked out by a doctor.
Smart Sun Sense and Prevention
The best way to prevent skin cancer and sun damage is to protect skin from the daylight and direct sun. UV radiation can penetrate through light clothing, windshields, windows and clouds. Also, protecting children from an early age is so important, as most of the damage is done when we are young. Sunscreens can be used on babies over the age of six months. keep the following in mind:
- Avoid the midday sun
- There is as much UVA in the winter as in the summer
- One burn doubles your risk of melanoma
- Protect from UV reflection from sand, water, snow and ice – 90% bounces back
- Give yourself a yearly examination for skin cancer and changes in moles
Tomatoes could be the key to sun care!
Lycopene is being added to the list of antioxidants that could potentially protect skin suffering substantial sun damage. Lycopene is found in tomatoes and other red fruits. Its concentration is particularly high in cooked tomatoes and tomato paste. In a small, controlled study carried out by Newcastle and Manchester Universities, women were given 55g of tomato paste each day (to eat) for 12 weeks. The skin protection against sunburn increased by 30% in the women. So combined with topical UVA and UVB protection it could offer greater benefits for your skin while in the sun.
How SPF’s Work
The SPF represents the ability of a sunscreen to delay sun-induced burning or erythema. It is important to realise that an SPF is only a measure of how much UVB protection provides. Unfortunately, a similar system of denoting sunscreen protection for UVA radiation has not been universally recognised. Always look for broad spectrum sun products.
Sunscreens work by two mechanisms:
Chemical Sunscreens – Absorb UV rays, lowering the energy level and releasing energy as heat. This type needs to be applied to the skin before any other product, and normally 20 minutes before sun exposure.
Physical Sunscreens – Reflect or scatter the energy rays. They are mineral based so therefore less irritating. They need to be applied last as they bounce the rays off the skin. You will also find physical sunscreens in mineral make-up, which is normally SPF 20-26, depending on brand.
It is important to understand that, even though you may be using a sunscreen, some UVB rays will still penetrate through your skin, you cannot filter out 100% of the sun’s rays.
For example – SPF 2 products protects your skin from 50% of the UVB rays, so you can stay in the sun twice as long as you would be able to without protection. So you may burn after 5 minutes without protection, once this SPF is applied you could stay out for 10 minutes without burning. (this is just an example as this SPF is far too low)
SPF 8 blocks 87.5 % of UVB rays.
SPF 15 blocks 93.33 % of UVB and some UVA rays.
SPF 30 blocks 96.6 % of UVB and some UVA rays.
SPF 60 blocks 97.98 of UVB and some UVA rays.
While it may seem that a product with an SPF 50 or higher would offer a full percentage rate of protection, it is mostly comprised of an increased level of chemicals, which can cause a higher rate of irritation in skin. Also look out for fragrance in sunscreens as these would be photo-toxic and can give you a reaction or pigmentation problems.
If you have a sunscreen sensitivity then look for mineral based products which contain Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide, and can have an anti-inflammatory effect on damaged skin.
Application of Sunscreen
Most importantly, when you use a sunscreen, make sure you apply an adequate amount to ensure you are getting the desired SPF. That’s generally about one teaspoon for the face and about on eighth of a cup for complete body coverage. Unless you are using a waterproof formulation, reapply sunscreen whenever you swim, exercise or sweat profusely. The national cancer society recommends re-application every 2 hours.
Vitamin D Production
Known as the sunshine vitamin, this nutrient is essential for healthy bones and is produced in the body when exposed to sunlight, it is also found in oily fish, fish liver oils, egg yolks and margarine. Most people should be able to get all the vitamin D they need from their diet and by getting a little sun, I know this may seem a bit ironic, but a little sun is good for us, just be careful!
If you are lacking in vitamin D for a long time then your bones may soften. In serious cases this leads to rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults.
By enjoying the sun sensibly, it is possible to make enough vitamin D while not increasing your risk of skin cancer and premature ageing. The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D varies from person to person, it depends on things like skin type, time of day and year, and where you are in the world.
The amount of time needed to make enough vitamin D is always less than the high amounts that cause tanning or sunburn. You don’t need to spend hours in the sun to feel the benefits of sunlight. In fact extra time in the sun doesn’t mean you keep on producing more vitamin D. When your body has a healthy level of the vitamin, the excess is broken down. From October to March our skin cannot make vitamin D as there is a low level of UVB in winter sunlight. Fortunately, health benefits of vitamin D do not need to be traded off for skin protection. You can get adequate amounts from your diet/supplements. Cod Liver Oil seems to contain the highest units of vitamin D.
Say NO to Sunbeds!!
While it is true that UV radiation of most sun beds do not cause erythema (redness) – although I have known very fair skinned people to burn – there is still damage being caused at a cellular level, and for some individuals this can lead to melanomas and skin cancer. Sun beds are definitely not safer than the sun! Beware of the coin operated sun beds, they may be quite old and you have no way of knowing if the tubes have been changed.
UVA is the primary wavelength used in sun bed because it causes the tanning reaction without the burning reaction of UVB. The long term effects on your skin will be premature ageing and pigmentation, I like to think of them as “Time Machines” as they definitely accelerate the ageing process – forward in time! making your skin look 10 – 15 years older.
Try some of the excellent Self Tanning products on the market instead, you will thank yourself for it later! I like Fake Bake and Liz Earle’s Face Self Tan Spritz, they don’t clog my pores and look very natural.
Topical Sun Care Products
As consumers we are demanding more from sunscreen products and has fuelled research into new technology in sunscreen ingredients. New types of dispersions of Titanium Dioxide and Zinc Oxide allow the formulation of products that no longer require the use of iron oxides to overcome the intense whiteness of these physical sunscreens. In addition, improvements to chemical sunscreens have enabled formulas that have a more elegant feel and texture to them. Sunscreen products can finally be made more like skin care products, that accommodate different skin types.
Antioxidants in Sun Care are Essential
On the research front, scientists have discovered ways to enhance sun protection for skin without the use of additional sunscreens. These studies indicate that when antioxidants (vitamins C and E) are formulated with sunscreen agents, protection against both UV-induced sunburn and free radicals in the epidermis and dermis is enhanced, but these vitamins need to be in a stable form to actually provide an antioxidant effect.
These are very effective sun care products that provide enhanced photo protection by incorporating antioxidants into the product via a unique Smart Booster Technology, a customised micro-capsule technology that safe guards active vitamins, then releases them upon contact with UV rays (anytime the skin is exposed to daylight) for maximum free radical protection. All products in this range are broad spectrum and protect against UVA and UVB rays. You can also choose sun care for specific skin type – oily, dry and sensitive, as they have different formulations.
If you are actually going to sun bathe, then you do need specific sun care products as above, not a tinted moisturiser or your make-up with SPF, these are OK for every day wear if you are out of the sun, but you cannot rely on them for proper sun protection.
Product Recommendations for every day protection: