We all know how important it is to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun! Sunburn, premature ageing and even risks of cancer: inappropriate exposure to the sun has many consequences and we need to take them seriously. To protect your skin correctly, it is essential to understand the effects of the sun and follow some good habits.
What are the effects of the sun on the skin?
Sunlight consists of different rays, including ultraviolet (UVA, UVB and UVC). While UVC is blocked by the ozone layer and doesn’t actually reach the earth, UVA and UVB do and are biologically very active.
UVB rays are responsible for tanning. On contact with the skin’s surface, they trigger the synthesis of melanin, the pigment that naturally colours the skin and protects it from radiation. When skin is exposed to the sun, these UVB rays therefore trigger the production of higher quantities of melanin pigments which makes the skin darker. Production of these protective pigments helps to block these rays, preventing them from penetrating the skin and destroying its cells. Therefore, although not widely known, tanning is actually the skin’s defence mechanism against the harmful effects of UV rays. We then have UVA rays which, although less active than UVB, are just as dangerous as they can penetrate the skin more deeply.
All these rays are capable of penetrating deeply into the skin and have biological effects that can be both beneficial – such as promoting synthesis of vitamin D to enable the body to store calcium in the bones – and negative in the event of over-exposure, which causes sunburn, pigment marks, photosensitisation reactions, accelerated skin ageing and, in the longer term, sometimes even cancer.
This makes it very important to observe recommendations for appropriate behaviour in the sun, such as avoiding going out during the hottest times of day (12 pm – 4 pm) and systematically applying a sun protection product tailored to your skin and the sun conditions to filter UV rays, in other words, block them to a great extent to combat their harmful effects.
How can you choose the right sun protection?
It is essential to protect your skin from the sun, but you need to make sure you choose the right protection for your skin too! This involves considering the sun conditions as well as your skin type in the sun, or phototype.
The phototype describes the skin’s sensitivity to the sun. Fair skin has a lower quantity of protective melanin pigments, while darker skin has naturally higher levels: the fairer the skin, the lower the phototype and the greater the sensitivity. Conversely, the darker the skin and the richer it is in protective pigments, the lower its sensitivity. However, it is important to note that although tanned, dark or black skin is more resistant to the sun, it too needs appropriate protection as UVA rays penetrate all skin types just as deeply and can cause damage!
If you have very fair skin that burns easily, if you are going to spend time in very sunny places (the tropics, out on a boat, in the mountains), use protection with a high SPF (50 or 50+). If your skin is darker, although it is less sensitive than other types, you still need to protect it with an appropriate SPF, 10, 20 or 30 according to the sun conditions and your phototype.
What good habits should you follow in the sun?
Once you have chosen your sun protection, simply applying it is not enough. You need to follow a few good habits too.
First of all, always apply your chosen product before going out in the sun. Apply the protection liberally and in sufficient quantity to protect your skin and allow even distribution over your entire body*.
Remember to reapply the product frequently, and always after swimming or towel-drying your skin, or even if you have been perspiring heavily, as this means the product will be removed more quickly*.
Don’t be deceived by cloudy skies! Even on duller and cooler days, clouds do not block the sun’s rays and UV can still burn your skin.
Likewise, UV rays are not restricted solely to the beach: so always apply protection during all outdoor activities, such as hiking, skiing or even activities in or on water, as snow and water increase the reflection of sunlight.
The sun can also wreak damage in the city, so remember to apply sun protection with an SPF whenever you go out in town, especially if you live in a very sunny climate!
N.B.: you still need to apply sun protection even if your skin is already tanned!
Always rehydrate your skin after being out in the sun with an appropriate after-sun product to soothe sensations of overheating and tugging.
Finally, remember to drink water regularly to rehydrate your body after exposure to the sun, because hydration starts from the inside!