Even though we are well into summer, it is never too late to start taking care of your skin and one of the best ways to do it is to regularly apply sunscreen. I’ve made a small summary, hoping to cover the most important questions related to sunscreen. I’ve planned to be brief, but once I started writing, the facts just came out so I’ll separate this into two parts.
What is sunscreen?
Sunscreen is a product which contains filters that, once applied on the skin, prevent the absorption of UVA and UVB rays, therefore preventing the damage they can create. It can come with chemical, mineral or the combination of both filters.
What are UV rays and what are they doing to my skin?
UV (ultra-violet) rays are electromagnetic radiation with the wavelength shorter than the one visible to human eyes (between 400 and 10 nm).
The main source of UV rays is sunlight.
There are several types of UV rays, but the rays we are hoping to block with sunscreen are type A and type B. While ozone layer blocks the majority of UVB layers, it doesn’t block UVA and almost 95% of UV radiation on the Earth’s surface is UVA.
UVA rays (long-wave; 400-315 nm) penetrate the skin deeper and can cause photoaging (damages collagen and elastin). In the past, they were considered “safer” and they were often used in tanning beds. However, even UVA rays can cause skin cancer.
UVB rays (short wave; 315-280 nm) cause sunburn, redness and they are a crucial factor in the development of skin cancer.
How can sun damage manifest itself?
First and foremost, the most obvious type of sun damage is dried, burned, red skin. However, the damage the UV rays are doing goes deeper, and with time, prolonged exposure to sun can lead to brown spots, as well as wrinkled and aged skin because UV rays damage collagen and elastin. Of course, the worst kind of sun damage is a skin cancer.
You also need to remember that sun damage is cumulative.
Is it possible to reverse sun damage?
It is not possible to completely reverse sun damage, but some cosmetic products can diminish it.
Exfoliation (chemical and physical) can remove the upper, dead, layer of skin cells and even out your skin. Don’t forget that exfoliation can sensitize the skin.
Products with vitamin C can minimize or completely whiten out brown spots, but they can make the skin sensitive to sun.
Vitamin A can boost collagen production, therefore minimizing wrinkles, but it can cause skin sensitivity to UV rays.
Hydration is also important because UV rays can dehydrate the skin.
Of course, it is never too late to start wearing sunscreen regularly.
How to minimize skin cancer risk?
The best way to minimize the risk of skin cancer is to avoid sun exposure, especially during summer between 10 am and 16 pm, as well as regularly use a high SPF sunscreen.
It is also important to regularly examine your skin at your dermatologist. Keep in mind that, if skin cancer is found early, there is a good rate of recovery. If it is found too late, when the cancer has progressed, the chances to successfully cure it are much diminished.
I hope that you’ll find this helpful. Part 2 can be found here.
DISCLAIMER – I am not a professional dermatologist and this article is based solely on my knowledge of physics and chemistry (It is surprising what one remembers from high school :)).