I went to a restaurant on Malibu Beach (a long time ago) and sat out on the pier basking in the hot rays of the sun. It felt so good and comforting. I closed my eyes and enjoyed a good baking. I insisted on not using a parasol and must’ve been out there for close to 2 hours (You’d think I should know better right?)
By the time I got home, my face and arms were stinging and “red”. By morning, I’d developed dark crusts over these areas and by evening it started peeling! I was in agony. Me? Sunburned? I could not believe it! “I’m black” I said to myself, “I’m not supposed to burn, I’m naturally protected!” I was so wrong. This is the misconception a lot of us blessed with dark skin have. This experience forced me into taking sun protection more seriously and now I avoid direct exposure as much as is humanly possible. A lot of patients balk at the idea of using a sunscreen and don’t see its need. Everyone needs sun protection!
The sun is essential for there to be life on our planet earth. Photosynthesis is necessary for plant life. Sunshine improves mood, lack of which may lead to depression. Stimulation of Vitamin D production depends on sunlight (children develop rickets when they lack sun exposure). The list goes on.
Overexposure to sun rays is very harmful to the skin and sometimes fatal as skin Cancer may develop as a result. The rays that harm the skin are Ultra Violet (UV) Rays. These UV rays are capable of penetrating the outermost layer of skin (Epidermis) and the deeper Dermis damaging the structures responsible for maintaining the skin’s elasticity namely collagen and elastin. This loss of elasticity due to the structural damage cannot be restored. Sun exposed skin ages much faster that protected skin and you can compare the skin on say your hands to the skin that usually covered.
The two types of UV rays that adversely affect the skin are UVB and UVA rays. The UVB is the short ray that penetrates the Epidermis to the upper layer of the Dermis. This ray stimulates melanin production leading to tanning. It’s also responsible for redness, burning and thickening of the Epidermis. The UVA is the long ray that penetrates deep into the Dermis which damages the supportive collagen and elastin causing the skin to sag. It also stimulates melanin production leading pigment irregularities seen in conditions such as Melasma. It also alters skin’s DNA increasing the risk of developing skin cancer.
The skins ability to tan is one of its main lines of defense against sun damage as the tan acts as a barrier to help protect the underlying structures from damage. Tanning occurs when Melanocytes are stimulated to produce Melanin which absorbs UV rays. The more melanin you have, the better protected you are. The darkest of skin tones tend to be better protected from the aging effects of the sun and hence have the youngest looking skin.
Individuals with Albinism lack pigment completely and the protective mechanism against UV rays so their skin tends to thicken and age faster. They are at a great risk of developing skin cancer. The sun’s UV rays are harshest at about 12 noon so it’s advisable to avoid direct exposure between 11.00am and 2.00pm. People respond differently to sun exposure depending on skin type. The Skin Cancer Foundation has a universally accepted system of classifying skin types in relation to sun exposure known as the Fitzpatrick classification. There are Six Skin types shown in the table below:
|Type||Hair Colour||Complexion||Freckles||Reaction To Sun||Tanning Response|
|I||Red||Very Fair||lots||Always Burns||Never Tans|
|II||Blonde||Fair||some||Often Burns||Tans Lightly|
|III||Blonde or Light Brown||Fair to Medium||possible||Sometimes Burns||Tans Progressively|
|IV||Brown||Olive||absent||Rarely Burns||Tans Easily|
|V||Brown to Black||Dark||absent||Rarely Burns||Tans Deeply|
|VI||Black||Very Dark||absent||Never Burns||Tans Deeply|
This classification cuts across all races. Genetics and heredity also have a large role to play in this classification.
People with black skin are naturally protected by the high levels of Melanin and are essentially blessed with a built in sunscreen. This however does not rule out the need for a sunscreen as this protection is not absolute
The use of a sunscreen (or sunblock) is the strongest line of defense against sun damage short of avoiding the sun altogether which is unrealistic. These are available as lotions, creams or sprays that contain ingredients that absorb (Sunscreens) or deflect (Sunblock) UV rays with various SPF (Sun Protection Factor) ratings. SPF numbers let you know how much longer you can stay in the sun without getting burned when compared to not using one at all. For example, if your skin burns after 10 minutes of sun exposure without the sunscreen, use of an SPF15 will prevent you from burning for 150minutes (i.e. 10minutes x SPF 15)
1. UVB Sunscreens contain
• Octinoxate (formerly called Octyl Methoxycinnamate)
• Octisalate (formerly called Octyl Salicylate)
• PABA (usually causes allergies so seldom used)
2. UVA Sunscreens contain
• Avobenzone (Parsol 1789)
• Methyl Athranitate
3. Physical Blockers contain
• Titanium dioxide
• Zinc Oxide
• Iron Oxide
I recommend a minimum of SPF 30 and reapplication if staying in the sun for long periods of time. There are Waterproof Sunscreens/Sunblocks which can be used when swimming or participating in activities that may cause sweating. There are also sunscreens specially formulated for babies and children. The earlier you start sun protection.
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed parts of the body including your ears and should be applied after your moisturizer and before makeup. Some Moisturizers such as Olay Complete have sunscreen in them. If you have never used a sunscreen it’s a good idea to perform a patch test first and watch for allergic reactions. Wearing protective clothing helps too. You could wear a hat, long sleeves and trousers when outdoors.
There are several brands of sunscreen. I have tested quite a few and recommend:
1. Peter Thomas Roth Oil Free Sunblock SPF30
2. Total Block COTZ SPF 58 by Fallene
3. California Baby SPF30 (For Kids)
4. Neutrogena Healthy Defense Oil Free Sunblock SPF30; SPF45
5. Clinique UV Response SPF30 for Face
Remember, NEVER leave home without applying your sunscreen!