Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sunscreens and Sunblocks

Exposure to the sun is the main cause of wrinkled, rough and blotchy skin. Photo-damage is the term used by dermatologists to describe damage caused to the skin by the sun. In fact, dryness of skin, patchy discolouration, darkening, tanning, pigmentation, age spots, wrinkles and other signs associated with not so young skin are the direct cumulative result of unprotected sun exposure, rather than ageing itself.

The sunrays that cause damage to the skin are UV rays (ultraviolet rays). Our skin is exposed to two kinds of UV rays:

UVA rays:
These are long wave, intense rays that can penetrate deep into the skin. Not only do they lead to dryness, wrinkles, darkening and pigmentation but they also result in deeper damage to the collagen and elastin fibres causing sagging of the skin. The UVA rays come into the house through windows and also through clothing especially thin and loose clothes.

UVB rays:
These are short wave, intense light rays. They not only cause sunburn but they also intensify the effect of UV rays. UVB or the burning rays are more prevalent during summer and strongest at mid-day.

UV rays
*Thinning of the epidermis.
*Damage to epidermal cells, the defence cells and the colour cells.
*Deep damage to the collagen and elastic tissue in the dermis.

The result
*Thin, dry and fragile skin
*Patchy, darkening and pigmentation
*Wrinkles - fine lines as well as deeper ones
*Loss of suppleness and elasticity
*Reduced immunity, making us more susceptible to allergies and infections

Skin exposed to UV light forms high energy molecules called free radicals. These discharge energy and cause further damage to neighbouring skin cells.
How do you tell that skin has become sun damaged? These are the several signs - the skin has a dull greyish appearance, blotching, tanning or pigmentation which will be patchy, freckles, moles, dark spots and of course, the dreaded wrinkles; however, one of the earliest signs is the dryness of the skin.

Sunscreens and sunblocks:
These protect your skin from photodamage. Actually sunscreens are probably the best anti-wrinkle treatment you can buy. Broadly speaking, each and everyone of us need to use a sunscreen on a daily basis even if we are indoors - in winter as well as in summer.
Sunscreens get into the skin and sit there like a line of defense. When UV rays hit the skin, the sunscreen grabs these and absorbs the dangerous energy before the rays can get into skin cells.
Sunblocks block UV light, causing it to reflect off the skin thereby never allowing it to penetrate the skin like a mirror sitting on the skin surface. Today most sunscreens have a combination of ingredients, thus making them sunblocks too.
The ability of a sunscreen to block out the sun's harmful rays is referred to as sun protection factor (SPF) and is designated as a number, for instance 10, 15, 30 etc. In other words, SPF is the protecting power of a sunscreen. SPF, however, denotes protection only against UVB rays.
Most sunscreens today contain antioxidants which act as fire extinguishers - they diffuse, put out or take the energy out from these radicals. Antioxidants can render free radicals harmless thereby sparing and protecting the surrounding skin cells from damage. Vitamin A, C and E are antioxidants. By using sunscreen products with antioxidants, you can reduce harm to your skin.

Some do's and don'ts:
Use a sunscreen with SPF of atleast 30. The higher it is the more effective.
Read well the label of the sunscreen before you use. Buy one which has both UVA and UVB blockers.

Apply sunscreen - atleast 20 minutes before exposure to the sun. This allows the sunscreen to be fully absorbed into the skin thus completely readying the skin to screen out the UV rays it encounters right from the beginning.

Don't be stingy. Make sure you use enough sunscreen; otherwise, you will not get the protection of the SPF rating given on the product. Use a blob about the size of a 50 paisa coin.

If you are going to be outdoor, apply sunscreen at regular intervals. A thumb rule is: reapply sunscreen every two hours when you are out in the sun.

Reapply sunscreen immediately after exercising or swimming even if your sunscreen claims that it is waterproof or sweat proof.

Do not forget your lips. Use sunscreen on your lips too. Unprotected lips can get badly burnt. Lips tend to get darker more than the rest of the facial skin on exposure to the sun.

Protect your eyes - give your eyes a sunscreen too - use sunglasses that have lenses with UV light protection. Wearing a proper eye protection helps prevent cataracts as well as squint lines from developing.

Avoid direct sun. When outdoors, stay in shady areas and wear a wide brimmed hat.
Wear the right clothes. During summer, choose loose cotton clothes.

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