Sunscreen is commonly used when people go to the beach, but there are other places where you still need this sort of protection – and not just when you are planning to be under the sun for hours.
Your skin absorbs sunlight simply by walking from your house to the office, and the rays are just as dangerous as the ones at the beach. Don’t let the presence of clouds or being in your car make you complacent – UV rays still do penetrate the clouds and the windscreen or windows of your car.
Ultraviolet (UV) Rays
But what are these rays and why are they dangerous? There are two types of UV rays that affect us most – UVA and UVB.
- UVA. These rays cause skin cells to age and damage their DNA, resulting in wrinkles and some skin cancers.
- UVB. They contain more energy than UVA rays and cause direct damage to the DNA of skin cells. They also lead to sunburns and are linked to most skin cancers.
When these UV rays hit us, our skin absorbs the UV radiation and responds accordingly. The topmost part of our skin, the epidermis, works to defend us against the harmful radiation by secreting melanin. Melanin is a dark pigment that gives our skin its colour. When we are exposed to the sun, melanin causes our skin to darken in a bid to protect our skin from UV rays. Still, overexposure to the sun can cause a multitude of harmful effects and damage to our skin, such as age spots and wrinkles.
Freckles are concentrated collections of melanin that are not harmful but can become more obvious as a result of sun exposure. As mentioned earlier, our skin darkens to protect us from UV rays, but for some people, this does not happen in a neat or smooth manner. Rather, it occurs in small spots which develops into freckles. While freckles do not cause skin cancer, those who are prone to developing freckles are at a higher risk of getting the disease.
UV radiation is strongly associated with skin cancer, with the American Cancer Society estimating about 5.4 million cases diagnosed per year. Melanoma is the most aggressive form of skin cancer, causing 3 in 4 skin cancer deaths. This is commonly caused by excessive tanning, be it under the sun or using tanning beds (which is not recommended).
Excessive sun exposure can result in heatstroke, or sunstroke, a severe condition that requires emergency medical treatment. A decrease in sodium and water levels gives the feeling of being unwell, coupled with heavy sweating and faintness. Other possible symptoms of heat exhaustion include intense thirst, nausea and headache. Left untreated, it can cause internal organs to fail and shut down.
Protect Your Skin and Health
- Apply sunscreen liberally and regularly
- Wear a hat, particularly one with wide brims
- Wear sunglasses to shield your delicate, light-sensitive eyes
- Stay in the shadows, particularly from 10am to 3pm
All of this does not mean that you should avoid sunlight excessively. When exposed to in moderate levels, it actually helps the body produce an adequate amount of vitamin D and endorphins – hormones produced to relieve stress, pain or fear. It also helps regulate your circadian rhythm, our body’s natural ‘clock’, which is crucial for our general wellbeing.
Just be aware of when to stop basking under the sun—if your skin reddens and burns, and starts to peel; or if you feel nauseated, feverish, chilly, faint and dehydrated, it’s a sign that you need to retreat back into the shade and replenish your water intake immediately.