Are you dying for a Suntan?
We are all living longer, eating healthier and know the mantra Moisturise, Moisturise, Moisturise to make sure that we look as good as we feel, but do you know what that two weeks in the sun is actually doing to your skin?
Lesley discusses all things solar with Dr Iñigo de Felipe
It all began with Coco Chanel back in the 1920’s when she accidentally got sunburned and liked the tan which had previously only been seen on outdoor workers…suddenly upper-class, milk-white skins didn’t look so chic. And we have followed her lead ever since with a multi-billion dollar industry growing around our desire to change our natural skin colour to a healthy-looking, sun-kissed bronze.
But it is definitely not a healthy thing to do…nor does the sun gently ‘kiss’ our skin because tanning shows that your skin is being attacked and is trying to defend itself from UV damage, and it is this damage which causes wrinkles, pigmentation…and cancer. Thus we take to the Factor 30 with a vengence, thinking that we are covering all bases…literally.
So, does sun protection protect against skin cancer?
In truth, it is difficult to answer definitively because there are so many variables. How much cream is used. Which SPF…is 50 the new 30? And over how long was it used and reapplied?
Research has shown that whilst factor 50 reduces the number of melanomas and delays their onset, it can’t prevent them. Melanomas, which develop from uncontrolled melanocyte cells (these make melanin, the pigment that darkens skin) are the most aggressive skin cancers. Other skin cancers, such as the squamous type (the flat outer layer of skin cells) are increasingly likely with long-term exposure.
What is becoming more and more clear is that the sun in the early years of life determines most of the problems we face in later years, such as skin cancer and melanoma.
Sun exposure dramatically accelerates the ageing of the skin with the development of more numerous wrinkles, spots and ugly red scaly patches. One day of sun exposure increases the destruction of collagen by around 60%, almost as much as smoking. Interestingly, this seems to be a Western phenomenon because Eastern cultures actively shield themselves from the sun, so they have less wrinkles, less skin laxity and less sun damage than us. Smart.
And if you undergo Laser treatments or Peels then your skin’s protective barrier has been weakened and you need to wear a good SPF at all times.
Pharmaceutical companies devised sun protection creams and ointments to protect us from sun damage. These are specially designed to filter UVB light rather than UVA because UVB is more powerful, more aggressive and causes more cancers than UVA. UVA on the other hand, though less aggressive and cancer-forming, can penetrate further into the skin – inducing allergic reactions, destroying collagen and your beautiful good looks.
Since the Renaissance, when a porcelain-pale skin was the height of fashion, women would dust a semi-lethal blend of lead and carbonate onto their skin. Many died.
We’ve come a long way baby.
The more sun we receive, the worse our skin will look when we get older and the more prone we are to developing skin cancer. Therefore, why bother getting a tan? It will only fade in a few weeks, but will leave you with lasting skin damage.
There are some cases where it IS recommended to have a small amount of sun exposure….Vitamin D deficiency for instance, although this is rare these days. Or certain skin diseases like psoriasis, atopic eczema or dry skin. The rest of us need to cover up.
All scary stuff, but the answer is simple. Do everything you can to avoid sun damage, after all, the pharmaceutical companies have spent a lot of money developing brilliant fake tans which can give a tan worthy of two weeks on a yacht in the Med. But remember that most of these offer no protection whatsoever, so if you go into the sun you will need to wear a sunscreen. Which is what all the experts have been telling us to do anyway…make sun protection a part of our daily routine. Every single day of the year.