Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Sun safety: ways to keep your skin healthy

Exposing your skin to sunlight exposes your skin to Ultraviolet (UV) light. On Earth we are susceptible to both UVA and UVB rays. UV rays expose us to radiation from the sun. This leads to problems such as sunburns, discoloration, and cancer.

The radiation damages the skin cells as well as the DNA, leading to long term health risks. With large doses of radiation DNA is altered and often mutates leading to cancer. Skin cancer at an early stage is treatable; however, many people aren’t educated on how to examine their skin and therefore leave the cancer untreated which can spread to other parts of the body.

What is important to know is first, how to protect your skin from exposure to UV rays. Second, people need to know how to treat over exposure to sunlight, and finally to be aware of skin changes and do regular self-checks.

1) Protection

Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering UV rays.

Physical sunscreens form and opaque film that reflects or scatters the UV light before it can penetrate the skin. They contain ingredients such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays. These sunscreens used to leave a white or colored film on the skin after application, but many are on the market these days that blend more with the skin tone.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays using chemicals such as avobenzone or oxybenzone. To broaden the protection, chemical sunscreens often combine multiple ingredients for added protection.

The effectiveness of sunscreens can be decreased if it is applied too thin, your skin type, how often it is applied, and how intense the UV rays are that day. Other factors to consider are humidity, sweating, swimming, drying off with a towel, or skin contact. Be sure to apply sunscreens before going outside, and then reapplying several times throughout the day.

Other options include wearing UV protective clothing and hats. These are especially helpful for people with very sensitive skin or pre-existing sunburns.

While many sunscreens contain chemicals, preservatives, fragrances and other irritating ingredients, there are several companies that produce safer and gentler sunscreens. Read labels thoroughly to understand the ingredients as well as the directions.

While sunscreens are important, it is also advised to simply stay out of the sun during peak UV ray hours – 10am – 4pm. If you see a UV index that is high for the day plan indoor activities, or do your outdoor activities before or after that time.

Several nutritional factors that can provide added protection. Antioxidants protect against lasting damage to our DNA. Many of these nutrients build and maintain healthy skin.

Studies have also shown that a selenium deficiency hinders our skin’s ability to prevent damage, so increasing selenium intake can provide added protection.

Increasing consumption of foods containing Beta-carotine, Vitamins E and C, caotenoids, lycopene, and lutein will protect skin, prevent sunburns, and prevent lasting damage. In addition Essential fatty acids and flavinoids will further protect your skin.

Recent studies have shown that white tea offers significant protection to sun-induced skin damage. Creams and skin products containing white tea have been found to protect against the destruction of Langerhans’ cells in the epidermis. White tea not only protected from UV ray damage but also from longer term DNA changes.

2) Treatment

• Keep the area cool. Taking a cool, but not cold, shower or bath will help. Using a cold, wet compress will also provide relief from the pain.
• Cover the area with slices of cucumber or aloe which are cool as well as soothing.
• Apply aloe gel several times a day.
• Never pick peeling skin or blisters – this could lead to infection and scarring.

3) Self skin checks and treatments

The following link from mayoclinic.com contains a slide show with pictures of sun-damaged skin: http://mayoclinic.com/health/sun-damage/SN00021
This slideshow contains pictures of melanomas to help identify skin cancer: http://mayoclinic.com/health/melanoma/DS00575
This page contains up-to-date and concise information on skin cancer from the Mayo Clinic: http://mayoclinic.com/health/skin-cancer/DS00190
This link is for the Canadian Cancer Society. From this page you can select pages for melanoma or non-melanoma skin cancers: http://www.cancer.ca/Canada-wide/About%20cancer.aspx?sc_lang=en

• Barbara E. Gould, PATHOPHYSIOLOGY FOR THE HEALTH PROFESSIONS, Elsevier Inc. Page 251 – Radiation

• Mayoclinic.com, SUNBURN: FIRST AID, http://mayoclinic.com/health/first-aid-sunburn/FA00028

• Mayoclinic.com, SUNSCREEN: ANSWERS TO YOUR BURNING QUESTIONS, http://mayoclinic.com/health/sunscreen/SN00044

• Alive.com, WHITE TEA PROTECTS AGAINST SUN DAMAGE (taken from the Health Supplement Retailer, hsrmagazine.com, January 30, 2003), http://www.alive.com/5523a16a2.php?subject_bread_cramb=74

• Lisa Petty BA, RHN, RNCP for alive.com, SUNSCREEN ON YOUR PLATE, http://www.alive.com/1865a5a2.php?subject_bread_cramb=284

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