Thursday, May 14, 2009

STI: Block out the sun

May 15, 2009

Block out the sun

Staying properly protected under the sun will prevent cancer and wrinkles. KAREN TEE tells you how


Whether you are a fashionista who likes to look pale and interesting or a sun worshipper who prefers a tan-tastic glow, one thing unites you: sunblock.


However, slapping on sunblock before dashing outside may not shield you completely from sun damage.


The biggest mistake people make when it comes to sun protection is that they do not apply enough of it, says Dr Lawrence Khoo, a dermatologist with Dermatology Associates clinic in Paragon.


You should apply at least a dollop the size of a 50-cent coin each to your face, neck and arms, and twice the amount each to the front of your chest and abdomen, back and legs.


Apply sunscreen about 20 minutes before you head out to allow it to be absorbed fully. If you are going to be outdoors for some time, doctors recommend that you apply sunscreen even to areas of your body shielded by clothing as ultraviolet (UV) rays may still penetrate the fabric.


It is not just brown spots and premature skin ageing that are a worry. Insufficient sun protection can be fatal. You can develop skin cancer due to overexposure to UV radiation.


UV rays create nasty molecules called free radicals, which penetrate living cells and cause damage to cells, says Dr Colin Kwok, consultant dermatologist at Changi General Hospital.


According to the World Health Organisation, one in every three cancers is a skin cancer. Now that the ozone layer is becoming depleted and larger amounts of UV rays are making their way to the Earth's surface, skin protection is even more essential.


Overexposure to the sun's rays can also cause pigmentation. This occurs when UV rays stimulate cells to churn out coloured pigments called melanin. The free radicals can also damage the skin's collagen, causing lines and wrinkles.


Here are essentials you need to know to stay protected when you are sunny side up.


The damage


- UV rays are categorised based on their wavelengths, as UVA, UVB and UVC rays.


- UVA rays are mainly responsible for causing skin ageing while UVB rays are responsible for causing skin cancer. UVC rays are absorbed by the ozone layer and do not reach the Earth's surface.


Key terms


Here is how to make sense of the label on a bottle of sunscreen:


- PA ratings protect against UVA rays, while sun protection factor, or SPF, protects against UVB.


- The higher the SPF number and the more plusses there are after the PA rating, the better the protection.


- However, PA is not as widely adopted, so look out for sunscreens that offer 'broad spectrum' protection on the product label if you cannot find a PA rating.


- Doctors recommend that you choose a sunscreen with at least SPF 30 and a PA rating that is as high as possible because most people tend to under-apply sunscreen.


Eucerin's latest broad spectrum sunblock, the Sun Fluid Mattifying Face SPF 50+ ($39.90 for 50ml), contains licochalcone, a plant extract which contains antioxidants that neutralise free radicals. It is suitable for sensitive and acne-prone skin.


For a more luxe option, try La Mer's UV Protecting Fluid SPF 30 PA ++ ($133 for 40ml), which contains the brand's famed seaweed ferment that has skin soothing and hydrating properties.


The 'teaspoon' rule


To apply sufficient sunscreen before venturing out, remember the teaspoon rule.


- Apply at least half a teaspoon (2.5ml) of sunscreen to each of these areas - the face and neck and either arm.


- And apply at least a teaspoon (5ml) of sunscreen each to the front of chest and abdomen, your entire back and legs.


Don't forget your ears and the back of your neck, which people often neglect.


Reapply and reapply


- Sunscreen tends to get rubbed off and its components may deteriorate over time, so be sure to reapply every two hours, especially if you are out in the sun.


Other methods of prevention


You can also protect yourself with some sensible lifestyle choices.


- Stay indoors between 10am and 4pm if possible, as this is when UV rays are at their strongest.


- Wear protective attire such as hats, caps and long-sleeved clothing or use an umbrella to minimise direct sun exposure.

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