As we're coming into spring/summer season and tend to spend more hours in the day outdoors, UV radiation becomes the hot topic. Exposure to UV light occurs under everyday circumstances and can be a reason of sunburn, photodamage or even skin cancer.
What exactly is UV and how it affects our skin?
The sun emits three types of ultraviolet radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVC rays only penetrate up to the ozone layer and don't affect our skin.
UVB goes into our skin by 20% and can cause sunburn. "When the sun burns skin with UVB rays, the top layers of skin release chemicals that make blood vessels swell and leak fluids. The skin then turns red and feels hot and painful. After a sunburn, your skin begins to peel, removing the damaged cells. It then builds another layer to protect itself." In Ireland, this type of UV operates between April and September.
UVA is the most common type of UV rays and penetrates our skin 365 days a year even on a cloudy day. This type of radiation is the most deceitful - it causes damage to our skin cells' DNA without us even knowing and, in turn, premature ageing.
Both UVA and UVB cause mutations of our skin cells, accumulation of which may result in cancer. Therefore, UV protection should become a crucial part of every beauty regimen.
There are different strategies for protection of our skin against UV. Let's break it down.
What is the actual "SPF"?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It measures how long you can be in direct sun before getting a sunburn which means SPFs mainly measure UVB protection. So if a product is labelled SPF 15, it means that you can stay in the sun fifteen times longer before burning. SPF 15 blocks 93 percent of UVB radiation. Surprisingly, SPF 30 in comparison blocks 97 percent (not twice as much!) and SPF50 blocks 98% so the increase in UVB protection is only very minimal.
What about UVA protection?
Especially from beauty point of view, we want to slow down the ageing process by protecting our skin against UVA. We may not burn, if we apply an SPF product, but without UVA-screening ingredients, we are still exposed to large amounts of skin-damaging radiation. Chemical sunscreens' job is to absorb the UVA radiation and dissipate it into the skin as heat.
Both UVA and UVB protection are equally important. To give our skin the best protection, we have to combine both physical and chemical filters and use so called "broad spectrum products."
Adding antioxidants into the picture increases our photoprotection and defence against free radical damage. Look for those not only as cosmetic ingredients, but also in a form of healthy foods and skin supplements. Caffeine in products, for example, has the ability to wipe away damaged cells before they can transform into cancer cells. Isoflavonoids in our supplements, fortify our natural antioxidants and prevent DNA mutations. Resveratrol from berries and grapes destroys free radicals and prevents inflammation, as a result protecting and healing our skin.
Before sunscreens were created, people used a variety of natural products to protect their skin. As an example, ancient Egyptians used to use rice bran mixed with jasmine to keep their skin silky white :)
We have it pretty easy as long as we stick to some rules. Pay attention to 3 key words: time, amount and frequency!
First, and unfortunately the most common, myth among our skincare clients is that once daily application of their SPF product suffices for the whole day. Majority of people believe that once their foundation has SPF in it, they're "good for the day." I clarify this myth - no matter what SPF product you pick, UV protection only lasts for up to 2h! When this time is over, our SPF product needs to be reapplied as it no longer protects our skin.
Second reason for insufficient protection is using too little a product on our skin. To evaluate SPFs, testers apply two milligrams of sunscreen per square centimetre of skin. In everyday life situation, most people apply from only 0.5 to one milligram per square centimetre of skin. As a consequence, they only achieve 1/3 of the SPF value as per label.
Another important thing - every product has its PAO (Period After Opening) - which is usually followed by a letter "M". It is the number of months it is effective for POST opening. So if you have any last years' products in your bathroom - they're good.. for the bin ;)
Majority of people make one more mistake, especially when away on holiday. They apply the sun factor while in the sun. Every sun screen needs to be applied 30 min prior to sun exposure. This is the time in which it achieves its full range of protection.
A lot of questions come up. What type of SPF is suitable for me? How high should I go? Is my skin is too sensitive for it? I can't use SPF because my skin gets clogged up from it. My skin goes white when I apply my SPF product, what can I do? Do I need SPF if I work in an office? These and more concerns we deal with every day.
To sum it all up, there certainly is a product out there to suit each individual and to fit into their lifestyle. I suggest products with SPFs no lower than 30 and no higher than 50. But there is no way around it, everyone needs to use an SPF product of some shape or form all year round. It is crucial for maintaining our skin health. Suitable prevention minimises the risk of skin cancer and slows down the ageing process. And I'm sure we all want to age later ;)