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Here comes the sun....

As we approach summer, longer days and more hours in the sun, we are reminded that despite our love for the warmth and light of the sun, too much sun exposure can significantly damage our human skin.

If you looked at sunburned skin under a strong microscope, you would see that the cells and blood vessels have been damaged. The skin starts to look dry, wrinkled, discoloured and appears thicker with repeated sun damage.

The process of premature skin aging due to excessive sun exposure is called photoaging.

What causes photoaging?

Ultraviolet radiation causes DNA changes in the skin that can lead to premature aging and skin cancer.

There are two kinds of UV light:

- UVA light. This form of solar radiation damages skin at all levels—from the surface layer (epidermis) down deep into the dermis. Within those layers, several parts of the skin are affected. That includes collagen and elastin fibres - which give the skin its youthful tautness and elasticity - epidermal cells and capillaries, the tiny blood vessels present within the skin.

- UVB light. This type of solar radiation irradiates the outer layer of the skin. UVB damages DNA (more potently than UVA) in the epidermis and can cause photoaging, as well as precancerous cells (actinic keratoses) to form.

The benefits of sun exposure: Vit D

When talking about the danger of too much sun exposure, we also hear more and more that we need sun exposure to help our body produce Vit D.

Vit D breaks the rules for vitamins because it is absent from all-natural foods except for fish and egg yolks. It is produced by the body and, more specifically, in the skin. Even when it is obtained from foods, it must be transformed by the body before it can do any good, health-wise.

Vitamin D is not one chemical but many. The natural type is produced in the skin from a universally present form of cholesterol, 7-dehydrocholesterol. Sunlight is the key: Its ultraviolet B (UVB) energy converts the precursor to vitamin D3. In contrast, most dietary supplements are manufactured by exposing a plant sterol to ultraviolet energy, thus producing vitamin D2. Because their function is almost identical, D2 and D3 are lumped together under the name vitamin D — but neither will function until the body works its magic. This is where the sun comes into the discussion.

The sun's energy turns a chemical in your skin into vitamin D3, which is carried to your liver and kidneys to transform into active vitamin D.

From this, we understand that we need the sun, but how can we avoid its harmful effects?

Staying out of the sun is the best way to avoid sun damage, but most of us go outdoors regularly. So, when you go outside, take these precautions:

· Always wear sunscreen. Apply it on your skin every day. Make it a habit, as you do with brushing your teeth.

· Avoid sun in the middle of the day, from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The ultraviolet rays, which cause sunburn, are strongest during this time.

· Wear protective clothing. When you do go outdoors, especially for long periods in the middle of the day. Long sleeves and slacks, as well as a wide-brimmed hat, help protect your body against the sun's harmful effects.

· Wear sunglasses that filter UV light.

What is SPF in sunscreen?

SPF stands for sun protection factor.

The SPF number tells you how well the product will protect you from UVB, the burning rays of the sun. (Most sunscreens also absorb ultraviolet "A" rays or UVA.)

The higher the SPF number, the greater the amount of protection.

Everyone should use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30.

If you have had skin cancer or precancerous growth, you should use sunscreen with an even higher SPF.

Can I use sunscreen with a low SPF if I don't burn very often?

If you were only trying to avoid sunburn, the answer would be "yes." But protection from sunburn is not the most important reason for wearing sunscreen. You want to reduce damage from the sun. Your skin can be harmed by constant sun exposure, whether you see a burn. Remember, sunburn is an immediate reaction, but damage from the sun occurs over a lifetime.

Are all the different types of sunscreens safe for me to use?

Yes. There are 2 types of sunscreens: organic ("chemical") and inorganic ("natural"). They are both safe, and they both protect you from sun damage, just in different ways. The level of protection provided by both types of sunscreens depends on their SPF.

If absorption into the skin is a concern, you can use inorganic sunscreens, which have Titanium dioxide or Zinc oxide as their ingredients. It is always a good idea to talk to your beauty therapist or doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

How should sunscreen be applied?

Sunscreens are very effective when used correctly.

Follow these guidelines to give yourself the most protection:

· Apply the sunscreen at least 20 to 30 minutes before you go outdoors, whenever you are exposed for 30 minutes or more.

· Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours while you are outdoors, even if the product is labelled "all-day." If you get wet or sweat heavily, reapply sunscreen more frequently.

· Cover all exposed areas, including your ears, lips, face, and back of your hands.

· Apply a generous layer. Smooth it on rather than rubbing it in. A rule of thumb is that 45 ml (a shot glass) of sunscreen is needed to cover all exposed skin to attain the stated level of protection.

· Women should apply sunscreens under makeup. If you wait to apply sunscreen until you hit the beach, you may already be sweating, and moisture makes sunscreens less effective.

Points to remember:

Sunlight contains two forms of radiant energy, ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVB provides the energy your skin needs to make vitamin D, but that energy can burn the skin and increase the cell damage that leads to cancer. UVA also contributes to skin damage and premature aging.

To protect yourself, avoid the summer sunshine, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Whenever possible, wear a large-brimmed hat and a tightly woven, dark-coloured long-sleeve shirt and long pants when you go out in the sun.

But summer clothing is usually lightweight and exposes a lot of skin. That's where sunscreen comes in.

Look for a product with an SPF of at least 15; fair-skinned people would be wise to shoot for 30 or higher. But since SPFs apply only to UVB, look for a "broad spectrum" sunscreen that protects against UVA; Apply your sunscreen early, often, and liberally.

Check out Phyt's Sunscreens

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