After coming out of a dreary few months of winter looking a little ashen, pasty-faced, and pale, the hint of warmer weather brings about a satisfying thought of a gentle tan and warm cheeks (without the help of a blush or bronzer) along with long summer nights. There’s nothing more alluring having that sun-kissed skin glow, the luminosity, radiance, and all-round look of healthy skin -- but with all that sun exposure, we also have to think at what cost?
In essence, the vitamin D produced from exposure to sunlight is essential for overall health. When skin is exposed to sunlight, vitamin D is produced in the epidermis. Of course, you can also consume Vitamin D in your diet, which many of us do in those winter months. Without vitamin D, our bones can become less dense which over time can contribute to brittle bones or osteoporosis, making them more prone to fractures. In extreme cases with children, this can even lead to rickets or misshapen bones. The bottom line is that exposure to the sun is essential!
But did you know that the recommended dose of sunlight exposure is 10-15 minutes, 2-3 times per week for your hands, face, arms, legs, and abdomen? This is all that your body needs for essential sunlight exposure to support sufficient vitamin D levels -- after that, your body will start to excrete excess vitamin D. It’s the over exposure and lack of sun exposure knowledge combined with understanding the true importance of adequate sun protection which can cause us harm.
What are UV rays?
UV rays are the natural energy waves produced by the sun. UVA rays have a longer wavelength and are the rays associated with ageing skin – think “A” for AGEING. UVB rays have a shorter wavelength and are the rays associated with skin burning – think “B” for Burn.
Although we can’t see the rays, we can feel their effect on the skin and that lovely warmth of summer, but the effect on the skin without sun protection can cause detrimental long-term damage.
The visible immediate damage of a reddened skin, a burn, blisters, and peeling as a result of overexposure or unprotected exposure may seem short lived, however, the sun can have a very different effect on the skin cells which are not visible to the naked eye immediately. Rashes, lumps, bumps, and prickly heat alongside headaches, and in some extreme cases nausea, vomiting, and swelling, mean that overexposure has truly taken its toll and your body is trying to recover. Effects of over-sun exposure usually present themselves approximately 4-5 hours after exposure, with the pain intensifying somewhere between 6-48 hours later. The intensity of burns and reactions frequently start to negate within 3-5 days, or as you start to peel. However, the long-term effect of the rays can produce defects or mutations within the skin cells, so it’s not just hyperpigmentation which shows as a visible brown or red patch on the skin in years to come, but the damaged and sunburned skin cells can also lead to varying forms of skin cancer. It’s also the fast-track way to gain premature wrinkles and damage to the skin cells. While your body can repair some of the DNA damage naturally, with repeated and over exposure over time, the unrepaired skin cells multiply, leaving to longer term effects. So, it’s always better to stay skin safe than be sorry.
How the sun affects your skin depends on numerous factors -- from where in the world you live to the time of year and time of day. Most people follow the rules during the summer months of avoiding excessive sun exposure by ensuring that they have a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on their skin between the hours of 10am-4pm when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
If you head to the MET office website (www.metoffice.gov.uk), there is an UV index forecast which identifies the strength of the ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun at a particular place on a particular day, allowing you to take the necessary precautions to help reduce the impact of UV on your health. They have forecasts available for 417 world cities across Europe. In the UK, the forecast is throughout the summer months, with late June seen as the peak. However, this is dependent on weather condition. The forecast is designed to warn you of an increased risk to your health from UV radiation and encourage you to take actions that reduce these risks, but still allow you to enjoy the benefits of the sun.
Expressed as a 'Solar UV Index', which is a system developed by the World Health Organization, the Met Office UV forecasts include the effects of:
The Met Office forecasters gather all this information and input into an easy-to-understand index from 1 to 11+, which determines your level of exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
UV Index Exposure
In the UK, the UV index does not exceed a level 8, and if it does, it’s quite rare. 7 may occur on exceptional days, mostly in the two weeks towards the end of June. Indexes of 9 and 10 are common in the Mediterranean area.
The aim of the index is to warn people of increased risk and encourage them change their behaviour to protect themselves against the risks of skin cancer and skin damage. As an example, imagine you’re on your well-earned staycation in early May, and your last getaway seemed like ages ago. You’re staying in the Lake District and ok, so you’re hoping for sunshine as it’s not a given in that region…so you don’t really need to be applying sunscreen, do you? Absolutely you do! And you need sun protection -- the best form is via clothing combined with your SPF.
Cover as much of your skin as possible -- after you’ve applied your SPF, reach for wide brimmed floppy hats, long sleeves, and cool linens which are the best for a day out and about in the sun. Sunglasses are essential as the delicate eye area needs extra protection on sunny days, whether it’s whilst you’re out taking a stroll, walking the dog, driving, or meeting up with friends. With the skin around the eyes being finer than the rest of your face combined with the temptation to squint more in bright light, wearing a pair of protective wraparound or oversized glasses with UV filter quality lenses are essential. Channel your inner Audrey Hepburn and Jackie O and think of the wrinkle prevention! Additionally, take cover for breaks from the intensity of the sun -- walk in the shade, sit beneath a tree, secure that brolly on the beach or simply have a siesta. Taking time out in the shade is great for enjoying the sun without the over exposure. Making sure you stay hydrated too is essential.
The other thing to consider is your current skincare routine and if any of the active ingredients in your skincare routine can cause photosensitivity in your skin. Photosensitivity is when the ingredient has the potential to react with sunlight, causing the skin to redden, or show sunburn typical symptoms.
There are two types of reactions when it comes to photosensitivity:
Retinoids, Retinol, and any derivative of vitamin A can cause photosensitivity. While these powerhouse ingredients are frequently used within skincare as a key active anti-ageing, wrinkle combatting, skin smoothing and acne tackling skincare ingredient, it’s frequently advised by the product house only to be used as part of your nighttime regime to avoid any issues when exposed to sunlight. If the percentage is low, it may be able to be applied both morning and evening, provided you use SPF during the daytime. It is imperative to always follow the instructions of use, so please ensure you are reading the usage direction of any product with active ingredients.
When it comes to exfoliation and the use of fruit acids as gentle daily exfoliants, whilst they are essential for helping to brighten and bring the glow back to the skin as they gently sweep away dead skin cells, they also leave new skin cells more vulnerable to sun exposure and damage. AHA’s (Alpha Hydroxy acids) such as citric acid, glycolic acid, and lactic acid are common gentle exfoliants. If you’re acne prone and wanting to banish blemishes, your daily routine might include ingredients such as Salicylic acid or willow bark extract to deep cleanse pores and remove dead skin cells. Again, great for the skin, but they have the potential to react with sunlight so wearing an SPF each day year-round is recommended. If you’re taking prescribed medication to treat acne, the small print will most definitely advise that an SPF needs to be worn every day.
Although not linked directly as a photosensitive skincare ingredient, Vitamin C has the potential to decrease the melanin levels in your skin, as it fights against historic sun damage and pigmentation spots, reducing the appearance of hyperpigmentation within the skin. The melanin it targets acts as a natural defence against the sun’s rays. So, while it works on the reducing the visible signs of ageing in the skin, during the summer months it may cause photosensitivity and increase your chances of damage from UV exposure.
Diane’s recommendations for skincare actives:
Murad Retinol Youth Renewal SerumRetinol Youth Renewal Serum | Murad
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalene Retinol 1% in Squalane | The Ordinary (deciem.com)
La Roche-Posay Retinol B3 Serum0.3% Retinol + Vitamin B3 Serum | Face Care | La Roche-Posay
Should you stop using key active ingredients during the summer months? That all depends which category of skincare user you fall in to. If you’re an out-out sun worshipper and disregard the advice about being sun safe, then absolutely you should. The skincare you’re using to try to repair and treat the historical skin damage along with wrinkles and signs of ageing will be fighting a losing battle, and potentially may be causing more rapid ageing than your skincare regime can keep up with. If you’re practicing being sun-safe, wearing a daily SPF of at least 30+, reapplying when you’re in direct sunlight, following the product house guidelines and wearing suitable protective clothing such as sun hats and glasses, then the risks are reduced. However, it’s always beneficial to switch up your skincare routine to more hydrating active ingredients throughout the summer months and then revert back to your active vitamins and acids once the peak of summer has passed.
Great summer skincare hydrators include hyaluronic acid, caffeine, and marine collagen amino acids, minimizing the risk of photosensitivity while targeting the visible signs of ageing for a more plump, hydrated, and youthful looking skin to keep you fresh-faced and glowing all summer.
Diane’s recommendations for summer skincare hydrators:
Elemis Pro-Collagen Marine cream ELEMIS Pro-Collagen Marine Cream | ELEMIS UK
Doctors Formula Marine Collagen Anti-Ageing Restoring Night Moisturiser Marine Collagen Anti-Ageing Restoring Night Moisturiser 50ml | Doctors Formula
So which SPF should you reach for? Skincare experts and dermatologists will say nothing less than an SPF 30+ for the face – and SPF 50 is even better. If you think about the SPFs available for infants and children, likely you will rarely see anything lower than an SPF 30. Treat your skin like a child when it comes to skincare that’s sun safe. A child’s skin has the youthfulness, plumpness, and elasticity, which is that flawless complexion we’re all searching for. Think about why we smother our children in a total sunblock along with an umbrella and floppy hat, giving them total sun protection when we then smear ourselves with a rapid-tan, minimal SPF oil, and lie in the midday sun. How can we expect that our skin will be radiant, supple, youthful, and soft?
How do SPFs work? The number on your sunscreen indicates an average amount of time that your skin is protected for, dependent on how rapidly you would burn without any sun protection. As an example, if you’re likely to burn within 15 minutes of sun exposure without using an SPF, applying a SPF 30 it offers you 30 times longer sun exposure without burning. So, 30 x 15 would give you 450 minutes or 7.5 hours of protection, but that doesn’t mean you only need to apply your sunscreen once a day. Factoring into the equation, how much you sweat, what you’re wearing, where in the world you are and what time of day it is (are the strength of the sun’s rays stronger at this time?) all play a part in how quickly you can burn. Activities such as water sports or skiing (the reflection off the snow’s surface) as well as travelling in cabriolet or on an open topped bus all need to be factored in to how frequently you reapply your SPF and what level of SPF you should use.
The best advice when it comes to being in the sun is to stay sun safe! Cover up, invest in a broad-spectrum SPF so you have protection from both UVA and UVB rays, reapply your SPF regularly, check your skincare ingredients, and stay out of the midday sun. The sun is powerful enough support all forms of life on earth, drive both the earth’s climate and weather, generate electricity, and change the genetics of your skin cells. It’s time we showed our skin a little respect.
Diane’s recommendations for broad-spectrum SPF:
Clarins Dry Touch Facial Suncare Dry Touch Facial Sun Care UVA/UVB 50+ | CLARINS®
Things to remember forUVA Factors & Risks
Things to remember forUVB Factors & Risks
Information sourced fromwww.skincancer.org
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