SINGAPORE: Today’s lovely tan could cause a wrinkle, dark spot or skin lesion in the near future. That golden glow is the body’s signal that DNA damage has been done and it is hurt. Fortunately using a sun protection product before you head out in the sun can help with damage control, even more so when we live in the tropics.
WHAT ARE UV AND IR RAYS AND WHY ARE THEY HARMFUL TO OUR SKIN
The sun is literally a ball of light energy comprising many rays, including ultraviolet (UV) A and B. We need some for the body to make vitamin D (essential for good muscle and bone health), but not a lot. According to aesthetics doctor, Dr Georgia Lee from TLC Lifestyle, only 10 to 15 minutes of unprotected sunlight exposure every other day can help us produce sufficient vitamin D; it is just as easily gotten from a diet (fatty fish for example) and supplements, without increasing the risk of skin cancer.
Too much UV exposure and things go south. Not only do UVA and UVB rays up the risk of skin cancers, the nasty skin effects are more immediate. Dr Lee shared that UVA hits deeper into the skin, causing collagen fibre breakdown, bringing on wrinkles and sags. UVB rays hit the outermost layer of skin hardest, resulting in pigmentation and sunburns.
However, only three to five per cent of UV light reaches us from the sun. The bulk of the visible light that hits us on a daily basis, are Infra-Red (IR) rays (about 55 per cent). Recent research has shown their causal link to skin damage. Not great news since IR rays are omnipresent – they are also emitted from electronic devices like computers, phones or hairdryers.
Of the many IR rays, you should be most concerned about IR-A rays. They penetrate deeper into the skin, cause damage by producing free radicals and also appear to increase pigmentation, said Dr Joshua Chong, medical director at South Bridge Aesthetics. Free radicals are unstable oxygen molecules that steal electrons from your other healthy skin cells, hotwiring their proper functions and altering genetic material when they do. The more free radicals in the skin, the more damage wrecked and the faster we age.
SUNBLOCK OR SUNSCREEN
Sunblocks and sunscreens protect from solar damage, but they work differently. The former, as explained by Dr Winston Lee (W Lee), also a medical director at South Bridge Aesthetics, uses ingredients like titanium dioxide or zinc oxide; they sit atop skin to form a physical barrier between you and the UVB rays to prevent sunburn.
Sunscreens have chemical filters like oxybenzone and octinoxate that penetrate the skin to absorb the UVA rays before they do deep skin damage. Today’s sun protection products have a mix of both to shield you from UV damage. Dr Chong also added: “Sunblock ingredients also have a protective effect against IFA rays, albeit a limited role.”
WHAT IS SPF AND WHAT DO THE NUMBERS MEAN
Do look at the SPF numbers and PA plus ratings on the labels to decode protection. The SPF level indicates protection against sunburn. What this means is, the higher the SPF level, the greater the protection from UVB radiation. The PA plus ratings show UVA protection, with three pluses offering the most coverage. For our tropical climate, an SPF 30/PA++ product is what Dr Lee recommended. She said: “When used correctly, and applied sufficiently, it offers up to 95-97 per cent protection from the harmful UV rays.”
HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH
Most people fail to apply enough cream, miss out spots or forget that reapplication is necessary after swimming or sweating in the sun.
The doctors reminded that a shot glass of product (about 30 grams) is ample to cover face and all exposed parts of the body. Sun protection should be applied 15 minutes before you leave the house (it allows the cream to settle in) and re-applied every two hours when outdoors or immediately after swimming or any activities that incurs perspiration.
They also warned that waterproof labels are a misnomer since no sun care product is 100 per cent waterproof, only water-resistant at best. Dr Lee said: “For water sports, using water-resistant sunscreen will offer better protection but it is more occlusive to our skin pores and may not be suitable for daily usage.”
Do not forget areas like hands and legs or the hairline. “The scalp needs sun protection as much as other parts of the body… studies show that hair alone is not adequate protection and the use of a water-based sunscreen is recommended, especially for the hairline,” said Dr W Lee. He added that bald men are more prone to burns so caps or hats should be considered when out in the sun.
Young skin also need sun protection but it is better to limit unnecessary sun exposure when babies are under six months old. As a baby’s skin is too thin and sensitive to chemicals, protective clothing and hats are a better shield. Infants that are older also do better with a chemical-free SPF. “Cover them with cloths and hats; hydrate them well too,” Dr Lee advised.
It is easy to fit sun care into a skincare regime. Formulas wear better on skin – they are less pasty, absorb fast and smell pleasant. They come in sprays and mists, and easy roll-ons so application is a cinch. Some even have a cosmetic function, doubling up as primers or complexion enhancers to get your face ready. Do note that makeup with sun protection should not be a replacement for sunscreen, but an additional layer of protection. This is especially so if they do not have the minimum SPF30 that doctors recommend.
Here are some sunscreens that can shield you from UVA and UVB rays, and minimise the free radical damage.
DR GL SUN PROTECTION MIST SPF29/PA++ (HAIR/FACE/BODY), $88
This non-greasy light mist is good for all skin types, including oily an acne prone skin. Plus, you can use it from head to toe. Bonus: It washes off with regular cleanser, no makeup remover needed.
NIVEA SUN KIDS MOISTURISING SUN SPRAY SPF 50+, $23.90
Made for young, delicate skin, the formula is slightly tinted to make sure you don’t miss a spot. Perfect for your little ones.
FRESH SUGAR SPORT TREATMENT SPF30 PA++ $38
Perfect for on-the-go touch-ups, this portable stick fits easily into pockets, and is easy to use on your face, lips and the area around your eyes. It is also water-resistant too.
SUPERGOOP! ANTI-OXIDANT INFUSED SUNSCREEN MIST WITH VITAMIN C SPF50, $27
Shields off UVA, B and Infra-red rays, and is water-resistant for up to 80 minutes. Bonus: Leaves skin with a gorgeous glow.
SISLEY SUPER SOIN SOLAIRE MILKY BODY MIST SUN CARE SPF 30 / PA+++, $165
The spray formula absorbs into skin fast. The best part? It also smells heavenly.
NARS SMOOTH AND PROTECT SPF50/PA++++, $65
A weightless formula that makes even mature skin look younger by minimising pores, blurring fine lines and wrinkles, and lets makeup stay on better too.