Skin Danger for the sunshine lovers

Skin Danger for the sunshine loversA cool, chilly breeze flows in through your bedroom window, signaling the official arrival of winter. The sun’s rays cast a golden glow on everything it touches and brings warmth into the room. The mist in the air and the dew on the flowers beckon you to step outside and enjoy this unique atmosphere. Honestly, a couple of hours in these great outdoors shouldn’t hurt, right? But wait, have you thought of applying sunscreen first? Getting some sun can be enjoyable, but over exposure to the sun’s rays can eventually turn out to be damaging to your skin. This month, H&B explores the harmful effects caused by overexposure to the sun and what you can do to protect yourself.

Dangers of the Sun

Staying out in the sun for too long doesn’t just cause sunburn; extreme exposure to the sun’s harmful ultra-violet (UV) rays can bring about other serious health problems such as premature aging of the skin, eye damage such as cataracts, suppression of the immune system and even skin cancer. Minor skin damage can be in the form of reddened, painful skin whereas severe skin damage can be characterized by brown age spots, blotchiness and leather, saggy skin. There is even a risk of developing skin tumors such as malignant melanoma which can develop from chronic sun exposure. Other tumors include squamous cell and basal cell carcinomas, pre-cancerous lesions and photo sensitivity disease. These ultimately lead to skin cancer which is uncontrolled growth of abnormal skin cells. Studies show that every year more than 2 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed, all of which are due to over-exposure to the sun.

UVA and UVB Rays Explained

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum that reaches earth from the sun. It has wavelengths that are shorter than visible light which makes them invisible to the naked eye. These wavelengths can be further classified into UVA, UVB or uva rays. uvb rays have the shortest wavelengths and is absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer and therefore do not reach the earth’s surface. UVA and UVB rays, however, do reach the surface of the earth and ultimately have a physical effect on the skin. UV A rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB rays right down to the dermal layers of the skin. This is what causes tanning and is one of the major causes of other skin abnormalities such as premature aging, wrinkles and brown spots. If left unchecked, it can even lead to skin cancer.

Who is At Risk?

Although anyone is at risk of developing skin diseases, those with slightly fairer complexions or who possess freckled skin have a much higher chance of developing skin cancer as a result of massive exposure to the sun. Those with light eyes, blond or red hair are also at risk of contracting skin diseases as a result of sun exposure. Aside from complexion, there are certain hereditary factors that come into play such as having a personal history of skin cancer, having an outdoor job or living in a sunny climate.

How are Skin Diseases Diagnosed?

These diseases are diagnosed via a biopsy. This involves taking a sample of the tissue which is then placed under a microscope and examined by a dermatopathologist.

Why is Sun Protection So Important?

Protecting your skin from the sun, either through the use of sunscreen or by donning protective sun gear, can help prevent the onslaught of skin problems. Exposure to the sun during childhood and adolescence can play a role in the development of skin cancer in adulthood. Scientific evidence indicates that damage is done to the cells of the skin early in life but constant exposure to UV rays throughout the course of one’s life is what triggers skin cancer. Many people share a common misconception that if their skin doesn’t bum, then they are not at risk of sun damage. The reality is, there is no such thing as a healthy tan; a tan is basically the body’s way of protecting the skin from damage caused by the sun’s rays and is a symptom of the sun’s damage occurring beneath the surface of the skin.’ So what you may think is a new look for you is actually your skin’s way of crying out for help!

How You Can Protect Yourself

It is advisable to always use a sunscreen with an SPF 15 or higher as an important part of a complete sun protection regimen. However, given the time we spend outdoors and the effects of global warming making the harmful effects of the sun more apparent, it is now clear that sunscreen is no longer enough. Here are some of the ways in which you can protect yourself from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays:

– Avoid going out in the sun between 10 am and 4 pm

The sun’s intensity is at its peak between 10 am and 4 pm, thus making you more susceptible to skin damage. Be sure to avoid going out at this time unless it is absolutely necessary.

– Cover up

Of course, restricting yourself indoors during the day is impractical, especially when you have a multitude of errands to run. In such cases, be sure to cover up the sensitive areas of your skin with clothing or other protective gear such as sunglasses, hats, gloves, etc. Wearing a hat can help protect your scalp from possible skin damage.

– Use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen

This should have an SPF of15 or higher and should be applied every day. For extended outdoor activity, use a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Apply up to an ounce (2 tablespoons) of sunscreen on to your entire body at least 30 minutes before going outside. Reapply every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

– Fight the sun from the inside out

Taking supplements can also help boost protection. The key ingredient to look for is called polypodieum leucotomos; it helps guard the skin from UV damage and even reduces redness after sun exposure.

– Don’t forget the eyes

The eye area is particularly sensitive towards sun exposure; that is why it is all the more important to take appropriate measures for protection. Get a sunscreen that allows you to apply it right near your eyes without irritating them or making them sting. This is particularly important if you’re wearing sunglasses – yes, even UV-protective sunglasses. This is because the reflection off the sunglasses can magnify UV exposure.

– Examine your skin head-to-toe every month

This is necessary to locate any changes in skin that may indicate the onslaught of skin cancer. If you notice any change in your skin tone whether it is in the form of a mark or an itch, contact your dermatologist immediately. Now you’re all prepared to go out and enjoy the sun that is just about beginning to shine after a cold winter, especially in the more northern areas! Just be careful and make sure you do your bit to protect your skin. If you must tan, try a spray on!

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