Years ago, people used to say that lots of fresh air and sunshine were good for you. Now they say the sun is dangerous. Why? Because frequent overexposure to sunlight can be dangerous, especially in a society in which suntan is so sought after. Too much exposure to the sun can prematurely age the skin and cause uneven deposits of melanin – the pigment that colors the skin – to appear in the form of freckles and age spots. The drying effects of the sun can also give the skin a leather-like appearance. In addition, the sun’s rays can damage the elasticity of the skin, so that it begins to wrinkle prematurely.
But sun damage, unfortunately, can produce even more serious consequences; for the frequent and excessive sunbather it can result skin cancer. The sun should not be avoided completely, however, because it is valuable source of vitamin D.
What exactly suntan is?
A suntan is the body’s way of protecting the skin against the burning produced by the sun. Sunlight stimulates melanocytes, the pigment. The more melanin you produce, the darker you get and the better you are protected against burning. That is why, if you must be in the sun, careful exposure is important so that you tan slowly rather than burn, particularly for fair-skinned people. Exposure time can be increased gradually as summer progresses. But remember: you are still damaging your skin even if you tan and don’t burn!
You can protect your skin from sunburn by using a sunscreen or sunblock. A sunscreen or sunblock is a lotion or cream preparation that contains a substance that screens out the sun’s ultraviolet rays – rays dangerous to the skin. Para-aminobenzoic acid, more popularly known as PABA, and substances with the tongue-twisting names cinnametes and benzophenone are among the active ingredients in most sunscreens. For maximum protection, sunscreens should be applied half an hour before exposure.
When you buy a sunscreen, look for a number from 2 to 15 on the package. This indicates the degree of protection it provides, with 2 offering the least protection and 15 the most. If you are fairly dark complexioned, rarely burn and tan easily, you can use a sunscreen with a protection factor of 2 to 4. If you are fair skinned, burn easily and never tan, you should always use number 15.
Reapply the sunscreen frequently while you are out, particularly after swimming or if you perspire heavily. Keep all products away from your eyes unless they have been designed for use around the eyes or on the eyelids or lips. Check the label carefully. Children’s skin is more sensitive and requires more protection than that of adults.
The best way to ease the pain of sunburn
Mild sunburns can be treated with cool wet compresses for 10 to 15-minute periods three times daily. You might also try soaking in a tub of tepid or cool water for the same period of time. It’s good idea to follow this treatment with an application of a moisturizer. Aspirin may help to relieve pain; topical anesthetics such as benzocaine may help, too. For more severe sunburn accompanied by fever, nausea and chills, call your doctor for specific treatment and advice.