Anybody been hit by the sun lately?
For the past four weeks or more, those of us living in Nigeria can attest to the fact that we have witnessed an extreme and unprecedented high intensity of the suns ray and heat.
In consequence of this, I think it’s imperative to be sun safe and adhere to practices that can help us wade through this hot season without getting “burnt out”.
First, let us examine the issue of the sun and how it affects our skin.
- Let’s face it while a tiny bit of sun exposure is necessary for vitamin D, too much sun will definitely cause premature aging. (photo aging)
- According to dermatologists the sun’s ultraviolet rays are accountable for more skin damage than any other factor.
- The sun also causes several kinds of skin cancer, including solar keratosis( a wart-like growth) and malignant melanoma
- Tanning or skin darkening/ hyperpigmentation (in dark skin) which is an immediate and sometimes temporary effect of sun overexposure.
Let’s look at photo aging in more details
- Photo aging is a slow and gradual process. It may take several decades before it becomes visible, so the effects of sun overexposure that occurred in your teenage years may actually become more apparent perhaps in your late twenties…
- The degree of photo aging is dependent on your Skin type, the level of exposure and also on the parts of the skin that receive the most rays from the sun.
- Even though photo-aging more easily affects white skin, all skin colours are nonetheless susceptible to the aging effects of sun overexposure. It has nothing to do with your skin colour, all skin colours are affected by the sun and can have premature aging as a result of sun exposure. Even though darker skins might be able to tolerate a moderate amount of low intensity sun rays while lighter skins can’t due to the presence of melanin.
- Over production of melanin in dark skin, which occurs when the skin is over exposed to the sun is also not a desirable quality, as it can cause the skin to become darker and hyperpigmentation.
Here are some characteristics of seriously sun damaged skin:
- Thickened outer layer making it feel dry, rough and leathery.
- Uneven skin pigmentation where levels of pigment are higher or lower than normal.
- Pores may become more dilated (open) and small blood vessels become more obvious.
- Skin may become mottled, red, or inflamed.
- Within the dermis the elastin fibres decrease in quantity causing deep, fixed wrinkles and less pliable skin.
What’s up with the sun?
Well nothing really, just doing its job I guess?, however the disregard to the balance in nature and lack of care for the environment has stripped the earth of much the protective covering that is meant to prevent the earth from getting this much radiation and heat from the sun. That protective layer is called the ozone layer.
As a result, the sun’s intensity on the earth at certain times of the year, especially in the southern hemisphere, have become immense.
The sun’s energy that reaches the earth can be divided into three kinds of light namely:
- Ultraviolet radiation (UVR)
- Visible light.
The UVR is in turn divided into three different wavelengths namely:
Shortest wavelength and potentially the most damaging as our DNA and Protein structure are able to absorb this due to their molecular structure. Thankfully, this ray is mostly absorbed by the atmosphere.
This is the most potent wavelength as it can penetrate into the epidermis where it affects DNA and creates free radicals. It can cause sunburns and is believed to cause the most photo damage to skin.
UVA rays are longer than UVB rays, and 90% of sunlight reaching the earth is made up of UVA rays
1000 times less damaging to the skin than the UVB rays.
However they are called the “aging rays” and are able to penetrate far deeper into the dermis than the UVB rays and can cause damage to the collagen and elastin fibres causing freckles, blotchiness and hyperpigmentation issues as well as premature skin aging.
How to protect your skin
Having highlighted the ways that the sun affects our skin, it’s important to do all we can to protect our skins from its very undesirable effects.
Always wear a sunscreen every day, all year long. Why? Because even when the sun is not shinning, you can still have the effects of UVA damage on your skin as UVA rays are fairly constant all day long and all through the year irrespective of the weather. UVA rays can also penetrate cloud cover, tinted glass and clothing relatively easily.
Always wear a sun hat (wide brimmed) if you can, or better still carry an umbrella when outside.
And finally, if you really can help it, try not be outside in the peak of UVB radiation between 12noon and 3pm.