As Summer in the Southern Hemisphere (where I live) draws to a close, I find myself reflecting on what seemed like one of the hottest summers in a long while. The weather became a constant topic. How hot will it be today? How many days over 40 degrees is that now?
Will the garden survive another day of this intense heat? Is there any sign of a cool change or rain? Skin, hair, makeup all look a little bit bedraggled.
My eldest brother, who hates summer and seems to take on a personality that nobody can recognise during the hottest of days, announced in a kind of maddening way “this is my last summer in Melbourne, I’m off to the northern hemisphere next year for a 2 month working holiday”. Quite the declaration!! A bit drastic?
Maybe. Some of us just seem to do better in the cooler months, I think I may be one of those people too. It’s not that I don’t enjoy summer, I do, I love the longer light, balmy evenings, more time with friends and family in an alfresco setting. As a kid, we loved it, time at the pool, competing with each other on who could get the deepest, darkest tan!!! Can you believe there was actually a time when wearing sunscreen for kids was not mandatory! Sadly for many of us, we have the sun damage to prove it.
What lies beneath!
But of course, for me, all this sunbathing came to an abrupt end at around the age of 24 (a long time ago), when I found out the true perils of the sun and the long-term damage to my skin, so although my own sun damage may be lurking under the surface, for the most part my skin today, 30 years later is relatively unscathed. But still, no matter how well I protect my skin now, the damage is there. The good news? There are things we can all do to stop future sun damage and reduce the appearance of what lies lurking beneath the surface, which with time will show itself, I promise you that.
Which brings me to my Beautiful Way # 5 – The Sun.
Goddess of light and life. How we love her life-giving rays, the very essence of life itself. But, with all this beautiful radiance comes the harsh reality; the sun will prematurely age your skin leaving you with much more than a tan. Wrinkles, brown spots, pigmentation and the risk of skin cancer are what you can expect in the years to come.
All these skin problems are collectively known as sun damage or photo ageing and if all that’s not bad enough, constant exposure will activate an onslaught of free radical activity that further damages the very DNA of your skin cells, leading to cell dysfunction and a breakdown in collagen and elastin.
Have you ever wondered why, despite all your best intentions your skin still seems to be showing signs of sun damage and photo ageing?
Every single day your skin faces up to the world we inhabit. Your skin will be exposed to the sun, thankfully the message of caution and the importance of sun protection has been heard and wearing a moisturiser with a sun protection factor of at least 15+ is now commonplace. But still, even with the best sunscreen protection, your skin will experience exposure of some kind during your life, for that you can be sure and although wearing a well formulated, broad spectrum sunscreen is a great start, there is more you need to do to protect your skin from the harsh reality of the world we live in.
Today I’d like to uncover a few truths that may help you perfect your sun protection regimen and protect your skin from the sun, not just on those sunny, too hot to handle days through the summer months, but every single day of the year, because it is your accumulative exposure to the sun that will determine your future skin.
We’re havin’ a heat wave!
SPF30 or Sun Protection Factor of 30. What does this actually mean? Let me explain. If on a hot, sunny day where Ultraviolet B (UVB) is present and lets say, on this hot, sunny day it takes you 5 minutes to burn, then simply multiply that 5 minutes by SPF30 and you have the amount of time your sunscreen will remain effective before you skin begins to burn.
So, if you have very fair skin and burn easily then you have approximately 1.5 hours of sun protection regardless of whether your chosen sunscreen indicates two or four-hour protection. Once that time has elapsed you will need to either reapply or take cover if you are to avoid burnt skin. Just know this. The information on the bottle or tube is, in a way, just a guide. The amount of time you are protected from sunburn is truly determined by your skin colour and its own Minimal Erythema Dose (MED) or to put more simply; how long it takes YOU to burn.
Oh baby it’s cold outside!
What about on those days when it’s not so sunny, or you’ve spent the whole day inside. Should you reapply your sunscreen every couple of hours based on your burn rate? If you are NOT at risk of burning then your sunscreen is going to last on your skin for a lot longer, however, don’t be mistaken in thinking if there is no risk of burning then you do not need sun protection. Even on a cloudy day at least 40 percent of the sun’s ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth and YOU.
It’s known as Ultraviolet A (UVA), and although it may not burn you, UVA is able to penetrate deep into the layers of your skin where it can cause many of the photo ageing signs and symptoms we are talking about today.
Wrinkles, pigmentation, loss of tone and elasticity are all going to become more prevalent with long-term exposure to both UVB and UVA radiation. So, if you are serious about the longevity of your skin’s youthful appearance and reduce your risk of skin cancer, then sun protection must be part of your skin care regimen 365 days of the year.
Out, damned spot!
Ever wonder why your pigmentation, freckles and sun spots seem to become darker in summer, even though you are wearing a sunscreen everyday?
Sun exposure activates your melanocytes to produce a pigment known as melanin, which is why, when you spend extensive time in the sun you tan, for a while and depending on your genetics, everything is fine, you produce an all over, even tan. You look fabulous. However, with time what was once a sought after golden tan begins to become blotchy, uneven, with brown patches and spots. You didn’t bargain on this and these brown patches seem to get worse even when you wear sun protection. It’s not your imagination, sun damage does become more pronounced as you get older and your exposure to the radiant infrared heat of the sun will also make your pigmentation problems appear more pronounced. I know. Terrible.
But, of course you are a modern woman and you know the risk of getting too much sun exposure can lead to skin cancer. What you may not know is that even short periods of UVA exposure over a long period of time will lead to inevitable sun damage and photo ageing.
Ultraviolet radiation reaches the earth even on cloudy days. Up to 40 percent in fact. So regardless of the weather outside you are quite likely to be exposing yourself to unnecessary and damaging ultraviolet radiation, even in winter months.
When this happens you will begin to notice pigmentation which just didn’t seem to be there a year or two ago. Unfortunately, it is the constant exposure to UVA, day in, day out, even on the cloudy days, that has damaged your skin. You just didn’t see it coming, I know and I think it bears repeating that even the heat from the sun will make your pigmentation more pronounced. So you have some very good reasons to cover up.
The best advice I can give you is to view your photo ageing protection as a skin care regimen, not just one single product. Not just a sunscreen in your moisturiser.
4 Ways to stop Sun Damage in its tracks!
1. Best place to start is with a very good broad spectrum sunscreen. One that is either SPF15, which gives you around 93 percent protection, SPF30 around 96 percent or SPF50 around 98 percent. So you see, even the very highest protection is not going to be 100% protective.
2. Choosing a sunscreen that is broad spectrum. Meaning it protects both UVB and UVA. Most sunscreens have a combination of ingredients that absorb and reflect UV light. These sunscreen ingredients fall into two categories, those that are known as chemical sunscreens that scatter and absorb UV light or physical sunscreens which reflect and physically block UV light, such as Zinc Oxide and Titanium Oxide, the latter is often used in makeup formulations and although may list an SPF will only protect you from UVB and not the more penetrating and damaging UVA.
3. Vitamin C protection. As part of your skin protection regimen, find yourself a quality vitamin C formulation and topically apply to your skin in conjunction and before you apply your sunscreen. As well as being a potent antioxidant, vitamin C is a tyrosinase inhibitor. Yep, a bit of a mouthful, but worth knowing. Tyrosinase is the enzyme that stimulates melanin (pigment) activity which is activated in your skin by both UVB and UVA. Vitamin C will also protect your skin from the inflammation caused by infrared light (heat), which is often the reason why your pigmentation becomes darker on a hot day even when you are wearing a broad spectrum sunscreen.
4. Vitamin B3 (Niacinamide). Every time you are exposed to sunlight, and in particular UVB your skins natural immunity is put under stress and specifically your Langerhans Cells which are responsible for the immunity of your skin, either retreat or are destroyed with excessive exposure to sunlight. Topically applied vitamin B3 (niacinamide) has been shown to improve the skin’s immunity, enhance the repair of direct and oxidative DNA damage and potentially prevent UV-induced immune suppression.
Where can you find these ingredients? Many skin care companies are beginning to include these ingredients in their formulations, one of my personal favourites (pictured above) is Rationale, formulated by Cosmetic Chemist Richard Parker.
With all this protection are you worried about Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is a very important to every aspect of your health and with all this talk of wearing a sunscreen every day are you getting enough Vitamin D? According to many researches there is no evidence to suggest that wearing sunscreen and seeking shade causes a direct deficiency in Vitamin D. It is far more likely that our indoor lifestyles are to blame for any possible deficiencies, in which case either a Vitamin D supplement or foods sources rich in Vitamin D are the answer. Foods such as eggs, cheese, mushrooms and fish will give the body what it needs to ensure the levels of this all important vitamin are maintained.