Protecting Yourself from Sun Damage

Julian Omidi discusses sun exposure and the effectiveness of sunscreen with regard to photo-aging and sun damage.

With summertime quickly approaching, many families (and single people, to be sure) are looking forward to spending time outdoors in the pool, at the beach, in amusement parks and other places where the glorious weather can be easily enjoyed. However, while it is certainly advisable to get lots of fresh air and exercise, it is important to protect the skin from the damaging effects of the sun as best we can. One of the tools in the sun protection arsenal is sunblock lotion. But how effective is it, really?

A recent study from Australia followed the sun habits of 900 Caucasian adults between the ages of 25 and 55. While all of the participants exposed themselves to the sun fairly regularly, none were regular tanners, and many of them wore hats in the sun for extra protection. The study divided the subjects in half – one half went about their usual sun protection routines while the other half was instructed to apply generous amounts of “broad spectrum protection” sunscreen on a daily basis. The sunscreen subjects were monitored to make sure that they were, in fact, adhering to the directives as outlined. After four years, all participants were analyzed to determine the extent of photo-aging. The participants who did not wear sunscreen regularly had signs of sun damage and diminished skin resiliency, while the participants who did wear sunscreen were remarkably well preserved.1

The process by which the sun damage was measured was the taking of a silicone cast of the participants’ skin prior to the test and one after. The cast was then reapplied after the four years of sun exposure. The researchers graded the sun damage on a scale of 0 to 6; the 0 being the same quality of skin one would have at birth, while 6 is severely aged, wrinkled skin with almost no remaining elasticity. At the start of the test, the average score among all participants was 4. At the end of the test, the sunscreen group’s average score stayed at 4, while the non-sunscreen group was elevated to 5.

Sun blocks are an essential tool for sun protection; that much is clear. However, they are not a “get out of jail free” card for inveterate sun bathers. In order for sun block to be effective, it must be used properly. Firstly, make sure you purchase a “broad spectrum protection” sunblock. “Broad spectrum protection” screens against both UVA and UVB rays; UVB rays are what lead to sunburn, but UVA rays are what cause skin cancer, sun spots and premature aging. Next, it is important to use a liberal amount. Many people apply sunscreen as one would apply a lotion, but sunscreen must be slathered on by the handful, not just by the dime-sized dollop. It is important to reapply sunblock every 90 minutes if it is worn while swimming or strenuous activity causing sweat; no sunblock is completely “water proof;” at best they are “water resistant.”


Sun Damage to Skin

1Kolata, Gina: Slathering on Sunscreen Shows Results, Researchers Find New York Times 6/3/2013


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