Sun Protection

Daylight saving is upon us and the warm weather of summer has already arrived. We all need to now pay attention to our use of sun protection. The evidence is clear that excessive sun exposure affects all ethnicities, increasing our risk of all types of skin cancer, premature aging and pigmentation of the skin, early development of cataracts and other eye disorders, photosensitivity disorders and even non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Strategies for sun protection should include sun avoidance (minimise exposure between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm in summer time), seeking shade (but remember you can still get sunburnt from reflected UV rays), protective clothing and sunglasses and finally the regular and appropriate application of sunscreen to exposed areas of skin.

There are excellent clinical studies that have clearly demonstrated that the long term regular use of sunscreen reduces the incidence of both melanoma and other skin cancers, plus the cosmetic benefit of less photo-aging.

Choosing a sunscreen. Always select a 50+ sunscreen – do not rely on a cosmetic product that contains a sunscreen to give you adequate sun protection if you intend to be exposed for more than a few minutes. A 50 + sunscreen will give you a guaranteed amount of UVA protection, the 50+ refers to the degree of UVB protection the sunscreen affords, in order for a product to be labelled as a 50+ the degree of UVA protection has to be at least equal to or greater than 1/3 of the UVB SPF. Sunscreens labelled less than this do not have the UVA protection requirement. UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply than UVB and may have a role in the causation of melanoma.

Sunscreens help to protect us in 2 different ways – either by absorbing the rays or reflecting them. In general the physical sunscreen agents are either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (they often leave a whitish film on the skin after application). The controversy concerning nanoparticles (which may be found in sunscreens containing zinc oxide and titanium dioxide), current evidence suggests that these particles are unable to penetrate the skin or enter living cells and so do not represent a health risk. Other sunscreen agents are chemically based and there is a wide variety of them.

Sunscreen use and application – ideally in order to obtain the full benefit, the product should be applied liberally 15 to 30 minutes before outdoor exposure to allow the product to dry and be absorbed – do not rub in, apply as an even layer. Reapplication should be every 2 hours. An approximate guide is ½ a teaspoon for each arm, face and neck. 1 teaspoon for each leg, front and back. Once the sunscreen is opened it should be discarded after 12 months regardless of expiration date.

UV Index – this is an international standard of measurement of UV radiation strength. The Bureau of Meteorology (http://www.bom.gov.au/uv) provides this index on a daily basis. In brief an index of 12 means a fair skinned individual will burn in 12 minutes, index 6 means 24 minutes. Please note this is a guide only and many other factors play a role including skin type, time of day etc. The higher the index, the more important sun protection is.

Vitamin D – there is no doubt that vitamin D is needed for good bone health and that sun exposure is considered to be the main source of vitamin D during summer. Studies have shown that regular use of sunscreen does not affect Vitamin D levels, whilst actively seeking shade when outdoors does affect Vitamin D levels. Ideally the areas of skin to be exposed for Vitamin D should not be the areas that are constantly exposed – face, neck, chest, forearms and hands. Consider exposing the inner forearms to sunlight for a few minutes each day. Where this is insufficient consider dietary supplementation.

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