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When the sun both harms and heals

Yes, we need our daily dose of Vitamin D.  But too much exposure to sunlight can cause significant damage to the skin, says a new book

Vitamin D and sunlight are essential for health
Vitamin D and sunlight are essential for health (Pexels)

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Here comes the sun. Is the sun a friend or foe? Is it a ‘frenemy’? Sun, sea, salt and sundowners. Summers sound exciting, but sun care becomes important. First off, let’s get some basics right. Vitamin D and sunlight are essential for health. But hey, we all know what they say about too much of a good sunthing?

Understanding Sunlight—UVA and UVB

So, how can this very source of energy, this giant ball of fire, so vital for all life forms on our planet, be bad for our skin? Sunlight is visible, infrared, ultraviolet (UV) light given off by the sun. It is, after all, electromagnetic radiation. Let’s talk about two types of UV rays that affect our skin and health: ultraviolet a (UVa) and ultraviolet B (UVB). They can be described as:

• UVA is known to cause significant damage to the skin by the formation of free radicals and reactive oxygen species. Excess exposure can cause pigmentation, sun spots, wrinkling, loss of elasticity, sagging and even skin cancer. Outdoor sports like snowboarding and surfing and even tube lights, television and smartphones emit blue UV light, which can impact your skin. Think A for ageing.

• UVB rays damage our DNA and cause sunburns but are also required for vitamin D synthesis in the skin and fur of mammals. That’s what I meant when I said the sun is a frenemy. Think B for burn.

Also read: Just because it’s cold doesn’t mean you ditch the sunscreen

What Exactly is Sun Care and Sunscreen?

Sun care means protecting our skin from excessive exposure to UVa and UVB rays. A shield for your skin, a sunscreen or sunblock means a topical product that does two things: it absorbs or it reflects the sun’s UV radiation, protecting skin against sunburn and skin ageing. When used regularly, a sunscreen will slow or temporarily prevent the development of photoaging: wrinkles, moles, and flaccid and sagging skin. That famous picture of a US truck driver with severe sun-induced wrinkling and pigmentation on one side of his face? It went viral a while ago and is a stark visual reminder of the damage sun rays can cause to the skin.

Classification of Skin Ageing

Skin ageing is classified into types and each of them has a unique way of analyzing the skin ageing process:

• The Glogau wrinkle scale studies skin ageing by the skin type and what suits the skin since every skin type is different and unique.

• The Rubin skin ageing scale rates skin on its scale of sun damage.

• The Monheit Futon system determines whether the treatment for skin ageing should involve topical application, peels or lasers.

Sunseekers—Sunscreen and Sun Care 85

• The Fitzpatrick skin Phototype Classification (FSPC) is the most common tool used to assess skin phototypes. It rates skin ageing based on how much pigment the skin has and its reaction to sun exposure. It takes into account genetics, background, skin sensitivity and skin reaction from sun exposure. Meant for white populations, the use of this scale for darker skin is limited.

How to Read Sunscreen Labels UVA Sun Protection

The persistent pigment darkening (PPD) method is a Japanese method of measuring UVa protection. Asian brands, mainly Japanese ones use the PA or Protection Grade of UVA system to measure the UVa protection that a sunscreen provides. Pa+ corresponds to a UVA protection factor of two to four, Pa++ between four to eight, PA+++ more than 8. PA++++ corresponds to a rating of sixteen or above.

Also read: You need sunscreen while staring at the screen as well

UVB Sun Protection Factor (SPF)

The SPF measures the level of protection from UVB rays. so, an SPF 15 protection means that 1/15 of the UVB rays will reach your skin. It is not an ideal measure because it is the UVA, not UVB rays that cause the skin damage, you see.

Also, sunscreens with higher SPF like 50 do not last or remain effective on the skin any longer than lower SPF and must be continually reapplied every two hours as a fairly thick and even coat to prevent sunburn.

Extracted with permission from Beauty Unbottled: Timeless Ayurvedic Rituals and Recipes by Kavita Khosa published by Penguin Random House India


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