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Sunscreen & Your Skin: How to Prevent Skin Damage

sunscreen & Your Skin

Is that tan really worth the adverse side effects?

Sunscreens and Your Skin’s Health
Up until fairly recently, getting a tan during the summer was looked upon not only as a sign of health, but also as something of a status symbol. To some extent the ability to get a tan meant that you had enough leisure time to waste roasting your skin. However, as the effects of the sun on the skin became known, people turned more and more to sunscreens to prevent harm. Today, too, a pale skin is not necessarily looked upon as something undesirable, or a sign that you might be sickly, but rather as simply a celebration of your particular skin tone.

What the Sun Does to Your Skin
It’s now no secret that the UV rays of the sun can cause serious damage to your skin, and not only to the top layer of your skin, either. Ultraviolet rays cause the red, painful skin of sunburn as they scorch your epidermis. Bad cases of sunburn will produce blisters on the skin, exactly as if you had burned your hand on your stove. The blisters are there to provide some protection to badly damaged skin as your body attempts to heal it.

Unfortunately, the damage from the sun goes further into your skin, to harm the dermis layer which contains elastin and collagen that keep your skin supple. Keeping in mind that the sun’s rays can affect your skin in a number of ways will help you choose a good sunscreen.

  • The sun causes your skin to dry out, which can contribute to premature aging and wrinkling of the skin. This is particularly important for younger people who can damage their skin while they are still in their twenties and thirties, and reap the unfortunate consequences later in life.
  • Basal and squamous skin cancers are more likely to develop from exposure to the sun. While both these kinds of cancers are benign, they can affect your appearance, and squamous skin cancer can spread over large portions of the face.
  • It used to be thought that exposure to the sun would help heal acne. However, this simply is not the case, the reason why acne looks better if you have a tan is because the skin surrounding the pustules is darker, so they are masked. Once you lose your tan, the acne is still there. Help for acne during any season can be found at
  • The most dangerous kind of skin cancer is melanoma, and this can be linked almost entirely to exposure to the sun. Unlike the benign skin cancers, melanoma will spread first to the lymph glands then throughout the body.
  • Even without the threat of skin cancer, the sun can make your facial skin very blotchy, which is exactly the opposite of the effect you wanted to achieve.

The Importance of Sunscreens
Other than avoiding the outdoors altogether for a good part of the year, the best way to enjoy yourself during the warm months is to use a sunscreen. There are two kinds of UV radiation that will harm your skin – UVA and UVB. UVB rays do not penetrate very far into the skin, only through the epidermis, but they are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer. The rays that penetrate deep into the dermis, right down to the hypodermis are the UVA rays. These rays are responsible for breaking down the collagen and elastin in the dermis and cause wrinkling and sagging of the skin, usually decades before it would naturally happen. Recent research has shown that these UVA rays will also cause the basal cells at the bottom of the epidermis to become cancerous.

To prevent damage to your skin by the sun’s rays, it is important to use a good sunscreen to protect yourself. Sunscreens are graded according to their Sun Protection Factor, SPF. When you are considering a sunscreen be sure that you understand what the SPF actually means.

  • SPF 15 will prevent about 93% of the sun’s UVB rays from penetrating your epidermis.
  • SPF 30 ramps up the protection to 97% from UVB.
  • SPF 50 provides 98% UVB protection.

The problem with most sunscreens, however, is that while they might provide good protection from UVB radiation, they often do little or nothing for UVA rays, which are those most responsible for the aging effects of the sun. When you are choosing a sunscreen, you will have to be sure that it provides protection against both types of UV, rather than just one.

However it’s best not to rely totally on sunscreens to protect your skin; give your sunscreen a little extra help by wearing a wide brimmed hat, long sleeves, and limiting your outdoor activities between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon when the sun is at its most intense.

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