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The sun and its damage to your skin

December 06, 2012

We all occasionally enjoy a
bright and sunny day. Many
of us would prefer a day out in the sun rather than a gloomy overcast day indoors. Summer is associated with fun-filled and vibrant endless days. It’s a time when most people like to take vacation from work and spend time in
the great outdoors to come closer to nature. There
is no doubt that the sun helps to sustain our lives.
It is hard to imagine life without the brilliance of
the sun. Although the sun has so many good things to offer, intensive exposure to sunlight can be a dangerous thing. The skin, which is a natural way of protecting us against the elements, gets the brunt
of this sun damage. We therefore need to strike a balance between too much sun exposure and adequate exposure in our day to day life.

What is sun damage?

Did you know that the skin is the largest organ
in the body? It not only the largest organ but is also responsible for many important functions that keeps us alive and healthy. When the skin is exposed regularly and intensely to the sun, it eventually gets damaged. The skin is made up of different layers with different overall functions. Within these layers there is the pigment (colouring) called melanin that is responsible for the colour of your skin. The more melanin there is, the darker the skin appears. Melanin helps to prevent the damage that is done by exposure
to sunlight. Whenever the skin is exposed to too much sunlight, it produces more melanin to provide more protection against the sun. This is the reason why the skin turns darker after prolonged exposure to sunlight. This is what is often referred to as suntan.

When sun exposure continues repeatedly over time, the skin prematurely begins to show signs of aging. This damage appears as melanin production and deposits in the skin becomes uncontrolled and results as uneven dark spots. The sun also tends to make the skin dry and
to look like leather rather its usual smooth texture. Certain rays (Ultraviolent-UV) from the sun can penetrate the deep layers of the skin and damage those parts which are responsible for maintaining the elasticity of the skin. When this happens, the skin tends to fold back on itself and appear to have wrinkles. Naturally wrinkles appear as part of the aging process but with sun damage, it occurs even in young people.

Sun damage can also results in skin cancer. Skin cancer is not only limited to the skin as it can spread and affect other organs in the body. Skin cancer is a serious disease
and is responsible for many deaths across the world every year.

  Can people with dark skin get sun damage as well?

The answer is yes. People with dark skin have more melanin in their skin and therefore are able
to cope better with exposure to the sun than people with light or fair skin. However sun exposure leads to the same results in both groups of people as there is a limit to the level of protection your skin can provide against the sun. In the end in all types of skin, regardless of colour, sun exposure results in painful sunburn and in the long run results in skin damage. In people with dark skin, it may not be easy to notice the colour change caused by sunburn but there is still some underlying damage occurring.

 What symptoms suggest that I have sunburn or sun damage?

All exposed parts of the body can get sunburn or sun damage. The signs and symptoms of sunburn can appear immediately after intense exposure or may appear after a number of days have elapsed since the intensive exposure. The skin may look red or dark pink and may be painful and tender to touch. There may be blisters formed in areas of skin that had been under intense sun exposure. Sometimes the skin feels hot to touch and appears to have some swelling.

After a few days following intense sun exposure, the skin attempts to heal itself by shedding off its outer later to allow for new undamaged top layer to regenerate. As the skin peels off in this manner, the colour of the skin becomes irregular with some dark and light patches visible.

 Can I get sunburn during cloudy days?

Indeed, sunburn can occur even when clouds in the sky are covering the sun. Ultraviolet (UV) is responsible for the damage. Although clouds act
as barriers to the sun and offer shade against it, up to 90% of the UV light
is able to filter through the clouds
and still cause sunburn. The UV light can also bounce off reflective surfaces like water and sand, to cause as much damage as direct sunlight.

 How do I avoid sun damage?

The best way of avoiding sun damage is to avoid sun exposure. However this is unrealistic as we also need some sunlight for our health and our day to day living. To strike the balance we can avoid sun exposure during the time when the sun rays are intense. The sun rays are the strongest from 10am to 4pm. If you cannot avoid exposure during this period, it
is important to limit the time that you are exposed during these peak times. When working out in the sun during these peak hours, you should cover
up your skin as much as possible. You should also wear a hat and sunglasses if you are out in the sun during the peak hours. You should read the labels on the sunglasses to make sure that they offer protection against UV light. This is usually written as 99% or 100% UV protection. Even if your skin is dark, you should use sunscreen
if you can afford it, to further protect your skin from UV light. The degree of sun protection given by the type of sunscreen
is usually written as an SPF number. SPF stands for “Sun Protection Factor”. The number is an indication of the number
of times longer you can stay in the sun with the sunscreen on before your skin becomes red compared to when you don’t have the sunscreen on. For example, an SPF of 5 means that if your skin would normally get red in 15 minutes in the sun without the sunscreen, then with the sunscreen of SPF of 5 it would take 75 minutes (15x5) to get

the same degree of redness. Generally, the higher the SPF number, the better the protection against UV light.

 What should I do if I get sunburn?

The first aid approach to most burns is to provide cooling to
the affected area. For sunburn, the best way to do this is by applying cold compresses. This can be done by applying a clean towel that has been dipped into cold water over the affected

area. Alternatively you can run cold water over the area. You can also apply a moisturising cream over the area. If there are any blisters in the skin, you should avoid breaking them up. Burnt skin looses a lot of water and may cause dehydration. It is important to drink plenty

of water to compensate for the water lost through the burnt skin. You should see your health care provider if the symptoms of the sunburn are severe or don’t respond to the simple first aid measures.

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