Your Skin: You Know What’s Hotter Than a Tan? Protecting Your Skin – The So/Ambitious Guide to Safe Sun Exposure
Words By: Bahare Mirzaei
With our Nordic climate pretty much denying us from even getting a glimpse of the sun for weeks or months out of the year, there are few things we Scandinavians love more than the feeling of the sun hitting our skin after hibernating all winter. When spring arrives, we soak up as much sun as we can; either with our famous ‘utepils’ (outdoor beer), surrounding a disposable barbeque in a park with our friends, or laying flat out by the sea – it’s the most wonderful time of the year (or was that Christmas?).
Sadly, but maybe not so surprisingly; In Norway alone, 90% of all skin cancers are caused by UV radiation from the sun, or from the use of tanning beds. It’s a percentile that can very easily be decreased, and this article will give you some pointers on how to protect your skin on these perfect sunny summer days.
First Things First: What Is Sunlight And UV Radiation And Why Is It So Dangerous?
Sunlight is electromagnetic beam lines – or energy, if you like. UV radiation is energy from the sun that causes a threat to our skin, and can be divided into three categories, differing in wavelength; UVA, UVB and UVC radiation. The UVB beams have the shortest wavelength, and causes the most immediate damage to our skin (sunburns), while UVA beams have the longest wavelength and penetrate the skin deeper which can cause permanent damage (ageing, sun allergies).
So, Is The Sun Only Bad For Us?
The answer is: no, the sun is both good and bad for us:
Pros Of Sun Exposure:
Makes us feel happier – nothing feels as good as being tanned in a summer dress.
Produces vitamin D in the skin that is stored in the body (which is essential for our long sun-deprived winters).
Can have a positive effect on eczema.
Cons Of Sun Exposure:
Breaks down the structure of our skin and makes us age faster.
Sunburns; causes an inflammatory reaction in your body.
Increases risk of skin cancer.
So How Do We Protect Our Skin And At The Same Time Enjoy The Sun?
The answer is sunscreen, or SPF. Sunscreen is a lotion that absorbs and/or reflects some the sun’s UV radiation beams, and therefore inhibits some of the absorption of the beams by the skin. A sunscreen’s main purpose is to protect your skin (although most of them contain moisturizing ingredients too), and with modern day technology, you can even buy sunscreens with active ingredients for conditions such as Acne or Rosacea.
Choose a product that leaves a good feeling on your skin and with an SPF (number on the front) appropriate for your skin type (described below). The purpose of the SPF is to indicate how long you can stay in the sun for without getting sunburned vs. not wearing sunscreen at all.
The different numbers on the front of the products can be confusing, so here is a pointer on how the numbers are categorized from a low to a high protection:
LOW SPF: 6,10
MEDIUM SPF: 15, 20, 25
HIGH SPF: 30, 50
VERY HIGH SPF: 50+ (please note that the European regulations do not allow the use of the word ‘sunblock’ because 100% UV radiation blockage is unobtainable)
How To Choose The Right SPF For You:
There are different factors to take into consideration when you’re choosing what SPF to use:
Where are you? Having an ‘utepils’ in Oslo or on a beach in Mexico? Different places equals different radiation exposure. The closer to get to equator (ie. Mexico), the higher the SPF.
Have you exposed your skin to UV radiation during the winter? If not, start with a high SPF then move to a medium /low when your skin has adjusted to the sun. Remember, the skin needs to slowly get used to the sun after a period of less sun exposure.
Do you get easily sunburned or tanned? If you easily get tanned and never get burned, you can go for a low/medium SPF, and if you’re prone to getting sunburned you should choose a higher SPF. Note that different places on your body can get burned faster than other places, and some areas may therefore require a higher SPF than others.
Some conditions may get worse from exposure to UV beams, for example; Rosacea can get triggered by the sun, so if you have a skin condition you should always choose a high SPF.
Some types of medication makes our skin more sensitive to the sun, for instance; birth control, antidepressants and Acne treatments. Always ask your doctor and/or the pharmacy for help finding the right SPF for the specific treatment you’re on.
How Much Sunscreen Do You Apply?
The golden rule is: a handful (your own hand being the scale) for your body, and about a teaspoon for your face. If applied correctly, SPF 15 blocks 93% of the UV radiation whilst SPF 50 blocks 98%.
Other Important Things To Remember Before Heading Into The Tanning Months:
Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you leave the house so that it gets absorbed into the skin, wait around 10-15 minutes before you apply any makeup on top.
Remember to apply the correct amount; A HANDFULL. If you are not sure that you have applied enough, reapply after 2 minutes.
Reapply sunscreen every 2-3 hours.
Take breaks from the sun. The sun is at its highest and strongest between 12.00 – 15.00. Enjoy that time for a little siesta.
And – don’t forget to protect your head and your eyes as well – hats, scarves and sunglasses are essential summer accessories.
Have Fun In The Sun!
[Please feel free to share your thoughts and reflections in the comments section]