It’s true that the sun gives us a vacay feeling and controls our biorhythms, as well as the wake-sleep cycle. It’s also essential for vitamin D synthesis, needed for facilitating normal immune system function. But no matter how much we love spending time in the sun, longer exposure always comes with harmful effects. UV damage can cause skin reddening and burns in the short term, where long-term effects include skin aging and even skin cancer. To avoid any of these, you must use sunscreen. Sunscreens are the best way to minimize the damage caused by sun exposure because they block the ultraviolet (UV) rays from being absorbed by the skin.
How UV exposure affects our skin?
The radiation that reaches us from the sun consists of infrared radiation, visible light, and ultraviolet light. UVA rays produce “direct or immediate tanning” and redden the skin, which can be more or less intense depending on exposure time. UVB rays cause “true or delayed tanning” and are the main cause of short- and long-term sunburn. Tanning is one of our skin’s natural protection mechanisms against the aggression of UV radiation. However, if you expose your skin in the sun too much, the protective mechanism tries to fulfil its role, which in turn burns the skin.
What is sunscreen?
Sunscreen is a photoprotective product, usually in the form of cream or lotion, that absorbs, reflects, or scatters UV radiation from our skin, preventing redness and sunburn. A suitable sunscreen must be able to act against UVB and UVA radiation.
The sun protection factor (SPF) is an index that informs us of the degree of protection provided by a sunscreen, measuring above all the protection against UVB. This factor gives an idea of how long you can remain exposed to the sun without the risk of sunburn.
What type of photoprotection should be used on a child?
Children’s skin is much more delicate than adults’ because the sweat and sebaceous glands do not yet act in a protective manner. Their thermoregulatory capacity is very limited and the protective hydrolipidic mantle children have is very scarce and not very resistant. Between 50 and 80% of the damage induced by sun exposure that an individual receives throughout life occurs during childhood and adolescence. This is why it is so important to take extreme care in these stages of life.
Babies under six months of age should not be exposed to direct solar radiation. The best strategy should be based on physical measures (T-shirt, hat, sunglasses) to protect them from the sun.
If sunscreen is used, physical filters are a better option as they are not absorbed by the skin and are free of perfumes and preservatives. Chemical filters aren’t recommended at this age due to the risk of causing photosensitivity reactions.
What to do if you have already been sunburned?
If you have been sunburned, you should apply cold compresses and vanishing creams in case of slight reddening of the skin. If the redness is more intense and blisters appear, you can apply low or medium-strength corticosteroid creams or gels on the skin and take an analgesic or anti-inflammatory for pain. If intense blisters and/or erosions or ulcers appear, you should see a doctor.
Quick tips to protect your skin from sun damage
- Clothing is the best sun protection: wide-brimmed hats, long-sleeved shirts, long pants.
- Avoid sun exposure between 12 noon and 4 pm.
- Avoid prolonged exposure, especially at the beginning.
- Use a sunscreen suitable for the type of skin you have, the place and time of day you sunbathe.
- Apply the sunscreen 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure on clean, dry skin. Remove any traces of makeup, perfumes, or deodorants from the skin to avoid photosensitivity reactions.
- Spread the product evenly and in sufficient quantity on those areas that will be exposed to solar radiation.
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or less if you are sweating.
- Pay special attention to the most sensitive parts of the skin, such as face, ears, neck, neckline, back of the hand, instep, and scalp in bald people.
- Dry thoroughly after each bath and reapply sunscreen to dry skin.
- Protect yourself from the sun if you are under the shade of an umbrella or parasol. Water, sand, or snow reflect the sun’s rays, so it’s necessary to apply sunscreen even if you are in the shade. FYI, even if the weather is cloudy, around 70 or 80% of the ultraviolet radiation passes through the clouds.
- Drink more water to compensate for the dehydration that occurs after sun exposure.
- Remember that tanned skin also needs photoprotection.