It is a popular belief that a good suntan is a sign of good health. In fact, a suntan is visible evidence of having received enough sunlight to damage the skin. Our views and knowledge of the sun and a suntan have changed considerably over the years.
One hundred years ago the Europeans considered a pale complexion to be a social and fashion asset. Large hats were worn and sunshades were carried to protect their skin from the sun. The rich and fashionable avoided the sunlight.
A Suntan became desirable
It was in the 1930’s that attitudes began to change. People started to enjoy outdoor activities such as walking, camping and cycling. A suntan gradually became more acceptable and even desirable.
In the 1940’s, after World War II had ended, cheap holidays enabled people around the world to enjoy the pleasures of travel. A most popular holiday destination was the beach. And so the outdoor lifestyle was established, along with it, the suntan. To have a good suntan was considered to have a healthy glow.
It was however, around this time that Australians were being informed of the potential dangers of the sun. There was a high rate of skin cancer being reported amongst white-skinned people. Public health campaigns were introduced to warn people of the dangers and to educate them about the use of sunscreen and the early detection of skin cancers.
The sun damages our skin
But still people persisted in sunbaking and not protecting their skin. Repeated exposure to sunlight causes premature aging of the skin known as ‘photoageing’. Here the skin becomes dry, wrinkly and saggy, with red and brown blotches.
There are more than 200,000 new cases of skin cancer reported each year in Australia alone. About 8,000 of these are malignant melanomas which are responsible for about 1,600 deaths each year. Doctors estimate that 90% are potentially preventable by taking care in the sun.
The sun has benefits too
The positive effects of sunlight are also considerable. The warmth and light offered by the sun after a long, dark winter will hugely lift the spirits. The aim is therefore to enjoy the psychological benefits of the sun without suffering from its hidden harmful effects.
What Happens When We Sun Bake?
When we sun bake the UV rays from the sun penetrate the skin. This causes damage to the skins cell molecules, in particular the DNA in the cell nuclei. By damaging the cells DNA, the function of the cell is impaired, and thus complications can begin to occur.
The body will largely repair the immediate DNA damage, but some can be inaccurately repaired. Problems arise when the inaccurately repaired DNA is passed on to new cells when the cell divides. An accumulation of these cells may gradually lead to skin photoageing or eventually skin cancer.
Sunburn is where the damage begins
After we have experienced too much sun we feel the effects. These common symptoms include pain, warmth, redness and swelling. The sun causes the body to release chemicals, which are partly responsible for these symptoms. Over exposure to the sun will cause the blood vessels to swell, which also contributes to the characteristic symptoms of sunburn.
Tanning is your skins response to UV light. It is a protective reaction to prevent further injury to your skin from the sun.
Care In The Sun
The sun has so many benefits that we should not be avoiding it. We should simply be taking care when exposed to it and being aware of its potentially damaging effects.
Below are some simple tips for all of us to follow to help reduce the risks and increase the pleasures of the sun.
- Avoid the midday sun. During summer time or in sunny climates it is between the hours of 11 am and 2 pm that the sunrays are at their harshest.
- When exposed to the sun, cover as much of the skin as possible. Long sleeves and a hat will significantly reduce the chances of sunburn.
- Wear a sunscreen that offers a high SPF protection (15 or more) and has broad-spectrum protection.
- Remember to reapply the sunscreen regularly whilst exposed to the sun. You will need to reapply hourly and immediately after swimming or excessive perspiring.
- It is worth applying a sunscreen routinely as part of your daily moisturising program. Especially to the face, which is exposed to the sun even when we are not sunbaking.
Effects of the sun on Eczema
We all need to take care but for those with inflammatory skin conditions, like eczema, need to be extra careful. Eczema may be helped temporarily by sunlight, however the sun tends to aggravate the condition as it will increase the skin itch and worsen the overall skin condition. The sun will take the natural moisture from the skin and cause perspiration, which irritates the skin, all leading to a flare up of the condition.
People suffering from eczema can still enjoy the outdoors, however they need to take extra care when venturing out in the sun.