In the last post I was describing my take on why sun is so beneficial to us humans (not talking even about other all forms of life on our planet). But we should not forget that as we need to have balance in everything, we should also moderate our love for sun. The awareness for potential skin damage (skin cancer, skin aging, sun spots, etc.) due to sun exposure has been rapidly rising in the last couple of years and, to my mind (as well as quite a few of actual specialists), it is sometimes presented too one-sided – saying that we should avoid sun at all costs and try to substitute vitamin D by diet. But during my previous and quite long scientific career (before my “rebirth” into fashion designerJ) I learned that nothing in nature can be one-sided. Everything always exists for a specific logical reason, but should always be considered with caution, including such trivial thing as sun.
As much as I love sun, I am also aware that too much of it can cause very nasty and even dangerous consequences. But what does “too much” mean exactly? Well, unfortunately, for everyone it is different – just like with diet and exercise, we all are built differently and therefore need customized “maintenance protocol”. Ideally, we should all have regular check-ups at our dermatologist, who would tell us what measures should be taken to preserve our skin. However, I believe it is possible to avoid and prevent most of the skin damage caused by sun if we know some important basic facts. Here is my take:
We Should Know Our Skin
It is important to know just how much sun can our skin really tolerate before it gets seriously damaged. We all have different skin composition, depending mostly on our inherited genetics. Simply speaking, lighter skin needs much more care and protection than darker skin types.
Ideally, we should consult with a specialized dermatologist who would help us to determine what kind of skin we have and advise on the best protection and care for it. Make sure to mention if you´re planning to fly to some sunny place for your long awaited vacation – the dermatologist will revise and advise you on the appropriate measures that you should additionally take during the vacation to protect your skin.
But you can also roughly determine your skin type by yourself using a very useful The Fitzpatrick Skin Type classification system developed in 1975 by Thomas Fitzpatrick, MD, of Harvard Medical School, and made available to public by the Skin Cancer Foundation. At the end of the quiz you will see very useful tips on general care that is appropriate for each skin type. Such a nice tool! I myself have discovered that I am skin type III and I should probably take more care protecting my skin...
It´s a Good Idea to Check Local UV Index
We should also remember that intensity of the sun rays is deferent and depends not only on the geographical location, but also on the season and time of the day. Therefore, it is a very good idea to check local UV index before going outside. Now almost every weather forecast service, such as AccuWeather for example, is reporting on local UV index all over the world, so it is very easy to stay updated.
On average, it is safe to stay longer in the sun with some basic protection (adequate to your skin type) if the UV index is below 3. Below 5.5-6 we should seriously take care of using proper protection measures for our skin (such as applying SPF 30+ sunscreen every two hours, wearing UV filtering sunglasses and cover up) and generally not to stay very long on the sun. If the UV index is higher than 6 – I would avoid going into the sun at all, meaning staying in the shade and using clothes with UPF 30+ protection. I would also not recommend going to the beach during high UV intensity hours – even if you are staying in the shade at the beach, the sand and water reflect a lot of the UV rays in all directions and you will still damage your skin and eyes. Plus, most of the (cheaper) beach umbrellas unfortunately do not provide any good sun protection and let up to 93% of the UV rays through, so be aware!
Midday Sun Is Dangerous (But Not All)
Probably everyone heard about it, but unfortunately not everyone takes it serious, especially tourists from colder countries. I mean, when you have only 10 days of well-earned vacation, it is hard not to try to use every possible hour of sunlight to enjoy outdoors. However, when the sun is high in the sky (especially in summer), the UV rays intensity is the highest and even relatively short sun exposure will lead to serious skin damage. Let´s take our favorite Barcelona, for example – now in July on average the UV index reaches level 5 already at 10 a.m. in the morning and goes down only around 4 p.m. So if you would observe carefully at any local beach, most of the local residents would either go relatively early to the beach and leave around 11-12 a.m. the latest or go for a refreshing swim at after work hours in the late afternoon or evening.
Saying all that, we should remember, however, that midday sun is the most effective for our vitamin D production (and we definitely need our vitamin D daily dose). It is a kind of paradox really – vitamin D is produced exactly when our skin is being damaged by UV rays (particularly the UVB rays), so you need to be very careful with your sun exposure at high midday hours and watch carefully your skin (if it is getting even a little bit red – go inside immediately). You should also correlate the time you need to produce vitamin D with your skin type, your location and season. For average skin type III, for example, 10-15 minutes on the midday sun in summer clothes (with little coverage) is more than enough to produce sufficient vitamin D for a day or two. But you should definitely test your own skin needs!
Covering Up (Strategically) Is The New Sexy
Ok, I get it – no one wants to cover up on a hot summer day. First, it is hot. Second, you want to show off your nice tan skin. And third, if you didn´t get the change to tan your skin, you want to use every opportunity to do it and covering it up is definitely doesn´t sounds like the right move. However… I learned the hard way that we should think our summer wardrobe through in advance and definitely have enough cover-up options suitable for the hot summer days. These cover-up options should be definitely versatile – so that we can use them over our usual summer clothes like shorts and bikinis. But we do need them and we need to use them strategically.
If you´re light-skin type like me, you will probably notice that more and more sun spots appear on certain body parts (arms, décolleté area and similar) each year. So I try to cover these areas during midday and prolonged sun exposure. I also like to wear summer hats, especially if a long site seeing trip is planned – it is very hard to protect your skin under the hair, but it is very easy to get it burned (and very unpleasant). So plan your vacation wardrobe strategically and definitely pack good options to cover up during a hot sunny siesta.
Sunglasses Are Not Just An Accessory
We usually don´t think about sunglasses as an important part of our sun protection, rather as a fancy and practical accessory. But in fact, we should choose our sunglasses with great care – one of the greatest risks being on the sun is the eye damage (especially at the beach where sun rays are reflected by sand and water). Prolonged sun exposure without sunglasses can literally burn your eyes and lead to some serious consequences, short- and long-term.
There are several things that we should consider when choosing our next fashionable sunglasses. First, we should always choose sunglasses that protect from 99% of UV rays (UVA and UVB rays). Second, we should give preference to sunglasses with sufficient coverage, so that they protect our eyes from every angle. Third, not every frame is acceptable for protection. Aviator style sunglasses (that I love) are unfortunately not the best for us – the metal frame can reflect the sun rays and thus lead to unwanted sun spots and freckles on the nose and cheekbone areas. So plastic frames would be the best in this case.
Sunscreen Has Two (Or More) Sides
Using sunscreen always seemed as a complicated matter to me. From one side, we need to protect our skin from UV damaging rays and there is no better method yet developed to do that than applying thick layers of sunscreen before going out. I even saw some recommendations saying that you should use sunscreen every day like a regular moisturizer independently from where you are and how long you´re going to be outside. But from another hand, there are also many negative effects that sunscreen products have and we should definitely take them into account before blindly following such recommendations.
First, we need to carefully choose which sunscreen to use. There are different types and some of them are much more harmful than sun exposure and its frequent usage can lead to serious health problems, including causing skin cancer that we are trying to protect us from. There are many articles written on comparison of different sunscreens, but generally it is better to give preference to the mineral based ones. Then there is the formulation also to consider – I would avoid any kind of spray sunscreens, as there is a very definite risk to inhale it (even if you don´t feel it). Furthermore, we should not forget that any sunscreen also blocks our skin pores and interferes with skin respiration, so it is not a good idea to wear sunscreen all day long.
Apart from health hazard considerations, we should definitely remember that sunscreen usage (that has greatly increased in the last decade due to the skin cancer and aging counter measures) creates a huge ecological problem. It is estimated that about 14.000 tons (!) of sunscreen is being deposited in the oceans annually and this has already caused massive damage to the coral reefs in Hawaii and the Caribbean – the chemicals in most common sunscreens are toxic for the reefs ecosystem and Hawaii, therefore, already issued a ban on those type of sunscreens.
So what should we do? Good question… I suggest that we try to be smart about using sunscreen and plan our time on the sun more carefully. I personally use the sunscreen for the whole body only when I go to the beach (and I never stay more than an hour on open sun). Otherwise I try to cover when needed, stay out of the sun and use good sunscreen options strategically only on the exposed areas.
So how about you, how do you plan for your time on the sun? I would be thrilled to hear your thoughts on what measures you take to protect your skin and enjoy the sun.
Please remember, that all the discussion above is strictly my personal take on the matter and no way qualifies as the professional medical advice.