Health Q&A

Shady Tips For Sun Safety: Are You Protecting Your Skin?

September 27, 2018

Why is sun safety is so important?

Tanned skin has been the socially desirable ideal ever since fashionable society deemed it healthy and attractive. Since then, people have been guilty of over-exposing themselves to the sun in the hope of achieving this goal. What many fail to realise, especially with South Africa’s harsh climate, is that sun damage has serious long-term health risks.

The skin is an organ

The skin is the largest organ of the human body and is made up of multiple layers including the epidermis, hypodermis and dermis. It has important functions like regulating body temperature, assisting with vitamin production (such as vitamin D), providing immune defence and facilitating sensation like touch, heat or cold.

The sun and skin damage

The Cancer Association of South Africa explains that prolonged exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVR) could result in skin cancer for those high-risk candidates. There are generally two types of skin cancer associated with sun damage. These are: carcinomas (basal cell or squamous cell) and melanoma.

The World Health Organisation confirms that repetitive and extended exposure to the sun is credited as the principal environmental factor responsible for causing cosmetic skin damage, accounting for up to 80% of irreversible skin-ageing effects.

Some of these effects may include:

  • Fine lines and wrinkles
  • Pigmentation or sun spots
  • Reduced skin elasticity
  • Degradation of skin texture
  • Broken blood capillaries

So, whether you’re making a deliberate effort to tan, are simply enjoying the great outdoors or if you need to be out and about for work purposes, it’s essential that you practise responsible sun care and protect yourself against the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation.

What is ultraviolet radiation?

Ultraviolet radiation is electromagnetic energy produced by the sun. Unlike the sun’s light and heat, which can be seen and felt, UVR cannot be detected by your senses. It is one of the leading causes of sunburn, premature ageing, eye conditions and skin cancer.

There are two types of UVR: ultra violet A, which reaches the deeper tissues of the skin and ultra violet B, which affects the outer layers of the skin. Both types of UVR affect the DNA of skin cells, leading to long-term damage.

The World Health Organisation classifies UVR according to the Global Solar UV Index, which is rated as a score ranging from 0 to 10, with 0 having the least UVR risk and 10 having a very high UVR risk. Check your local weather report for the UVR index. This will give you an idea of what sort of precautions you need to take.

What is sunburn?

Sunburn is inflammation of the skin caused by overexposure to UV radiation. The skin becomes hot, red and tender and, as a result, it swells, blisters and peels. Sunstroke, or heatstroke, is a more serious form of sunburn and can have serious, life-threatening implications. Symptoms include fever, nausea, dizziness or complete loss of consciousness. Sunburn can seriously affect the quality of your skin tone and complexion so preventing sun damage is the best course of action when it comes to skincare.

Home cures for sunburn

If you are suffering from the effects of sunburn, there are a number of natural remedies you can use at home. Some of these include:

  • Applying a cool compress liked mashed cucumbers or yoghurt to the sunburned area, which will ease the discomfort
  • Taking a tepid bath and adding one cup of apple cider vinegar to balance the pH of your skin or by adding a few drops of either lavender or chamomile oil, which can help relieve the pain
  • Moisturising your skin with aloe vera lotion or coconut oil to speed up recovery
  • Applying cooled, freshly brewed black tea to your body as the tannic acid can help draw the heat from the sunburned area
  • Hydrating with plenty of water, especially if you’re experiencing headaches along with the sunburn
  • Avoiding perfumed soaps or bath lotions for the duration of the sunburn as this could irritate the afflicted area
Tips to prevent sun damage

1. Avoid intense UVR exposure

The sun’s UVR is most intense between 10h00 and 16h00. Try to avoid being in the direct sunlight during this time or, if you must venture out, use protective clothing and sunscreen.

2. Protective clothing

Wear a hat, sunglasses or long sleeves (or a combination of these) when you’re out in the sun.

3. Keep hydrated

Avoid dehydration by getting plenty of water when you’re out in the sun. You should drink at least 6 – 8 glasses of water each day.

4. Apply protective sunscreen

Use a sunscreen with an SPF factor. Don’t forget to reapply every two hours, even if it’s water-resistant, and use a good quality lip balm.

Picking out a sunscreen that works for you

Overexposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation will exacerbate the skin-ageing process, so make sure you protect yourself with an effective sun protection factor (SPF). An SPF refers to the extent to which the sunscreen will help block out exposure to the solar energy.

Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.  Dermatologists recommend an SPF of at least 15 for low-risk UVR and 30 to 50 for high-risk UVR. When picking out a sunscreen consider the following:

  • If you have dry skin, choose a moisturising sunscreen and avoid an alcohol-based one that could dry out your skin
  • Try a spray sunscreen if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin as the creams or lotions may clog your pores, causing further skin irritation
  • If you have oily skin, try a lighter gel-based sunscreen

Most skin damage caused by the sun can be prevented with sensible protective practices like using a good quality sunscreen and avoiding direct sunlight with a high UVR index. At Topmed we encourage a healthy lifestyle, so protect your skin and prevent premature ageing with our shady sun tips. Get in touch today and sign up for cover for yourself and your family.

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