Sun Safety : Is Your Sunscreen Doing Its Job?

Proper sun protection should be of key concern for all people of all walks of life. With the correct sun care, skin whitening lotions, depigmentation treatments and anti-aging creams would probably be much less popular and certainly a lot less necessary.

A main factor in the health and appearance of the skin is its interaction with the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight can cause skin darkening, accelerate the aging process, cause skin abnormalities and are the number one cause of skin cancer. So much damage is caused by lack of knowledge about the negative effects of the sun, and when the harm is done, it takes a lot of time, effort and often discomfort to reverse it. 

This recent blog post, detailing the damage done to a trucker's face from exposure to the sunlight through his driver's seat window, is compelling evidence of the damaging effects of sunlight.So it goes without saying that sun protection is a topic dear to the heart of any doctor who has any dealings with the skin. As with many skin care products, sun care products can be misleading and poorly understood, and thus are prone to being used improperly.

Proper medical-grade sun care is far more important than collagen drinks
and Vitamin A creams in the fight against premature aging. 

Daily sun care is of course, something that most of us know we must use, but it is easy to ignore the need for this when we are in a rush or when other issues seem more pressing. Despite their tender skin, sun protection for children is often something that is poorly utilised. For those who have undergone laser or other corrective skin care procedures, effective sun protection is of paramount importance. As the skin is healing, it is at its' most susceptible to damage.

Here are a few of my basic rules for proper, effective sun protection, whether you have recently undergone an aesthetic procedure, or even if you are only concerned with staying healthy in the sun.

1. Use a Sunblock With Zinc for Complete Protection. The SPF label on your sunscreen only refers to its UVB blocking components. UVB rays are responsible for burning the skin, but UVA rays are the ones that cause cancer, DNA mutation and cause deeper damage of the skin. UVA rays are only blocked by physical sunblock components that leave a white residue on your skin. This can be considered unsightly by some, and is why many cosmetic sunscreens do not contain it. UVA rays can be minimally blocked by some chemical components including titanium, but only a sunblock containing zinc will give you proper protection against UVA rays. There are formulations available that offer micronized zinc that does not leave an unsightly residue.

2. A Higher SPF May Not Be Necessary. An SPF of 30 blocks 96.5% of UVB rays, and an SPF of 45 blocks 98% of UVB. Therefore, any sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is more than sufficient for anyone who spends a moderate amount of time out in the sun. A higher SPF will not give you greater protection or prolong its effectiveness. I also have patients tell me their skin cream is SPF 15, their foundation is SPF15, and the powder is SPF 15, surely it all adds up to SPF 45! Unfortunately, no, different layers of sun protection may seem like more coverage, but in actual fact it does not provide increased protection.

3. Apply Sunblock To The Skin, 30 Minutes Before Exposure, and Reapply Frequently. For it to work effectively, sunblock needs to be applied to dry, cleansed skin, under your make-up or skin creams, where it can create a physical layer. Allow the sunblock to set and gain effectiveness for up to 30 minutes before exposure to the sun. It is also important to note that sunblock needs to be reapplied every 1.5 hours or so for full coverage. No sunblock lasts all day, despite their claims. Sunblock is also never completely waterproof, but some brands have water resistance that allow them to be used at the beach.

4. Look For Additives for Added Protection. If you can find a brand that offers added antioxidants such as Vitamins C & E, these additives have the ability to reduce inflammation and improve overall skin protection.

5. Oral Sunblock Can Be An Effective Tool For Photo-Protection. There are some antioxidant products in the market that act as oral sunblocks, to decrease the damaging effects of the sun. Used in conjunction with topical sun protection, they can be an added layer of protection against the long-term effects of sun damage.

6. Prevention is Better Than Cure. Avoiding exposure to sunlight isn't entirely practical, but minimising exposure when the sun is at its peak between the hours of 10am to 4pm helps. Use curtains and shades to minimise the amount of sunlight into your home, and sun protective clothing can give an added layer of protection when you are outdoors.

7. Darker Skin Is Not Immune To The Effects of UV Rays. Although darker skin types are naturally protected from the sun burning effects of UVB rays, damage can still be caused by UVA that result in melasma, sun spots and even cancer. Melasma, in particular,  is quite common in dark skin types and can be  very pronounced and widespread. It is especially hard to treat as the natural pigmentation of the skin makes it very sensitive to most melasma treatments currently available. The best advice is to use an SPF of at least 15 with zinc at all times, and avoid overt exposure to sunlight during peak sun hours.

Melasma in dark skin types can be very hard to treat 

The proper use of the right medical-grade sunblock can be very helpful in reducing the risks of sun related skin conditions such as cancer, melasma, pigmentation disorders and photoaging. Since sun damage isn't generally evident until years after the worst has been done, often patients come to me in their 40s and 50s lamenting their melasma, pigmentation and wrinkled complexions. In our tropical South East Asian countries, effective sun care must surely be one of the easiest ways to look good even in to maturity.

- Cosmetic Medicine , MD
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