A guide on how to protect your skin from the sun.
Time and again, we’ve heard dermatologists talk about the sun like we should avoid it like the plague. We’ve read about the dangers of UV rays, we’ve seen side-by-side pictures of people who use sun protection versus those who don’t, we might even know people who have gone through skin cancer.
And yet, even with the widespread knowledge about the dangers of sun exposure, there is still a relatively low level of awareness about what complete and effective sun protection should look like.
Here are the four principles of sun protection that you should observe to avoid everything from premature aging to skin cancer.
1. Slather on sunscreen
When people think of “sun protection”, their mind automatically jumps to sunscreen. While there is no doubt it is an important pillar in skin defense, it’s wrong to assume it’s the only one. It was meant to be used in conjunction with, and not in lieu of, the other principles of sun protection.
Unfortunately, there are a lot of misconceptions about how sunscreen works that lead to a false sense of security and dire results. People think applying a sunscreen with as high as SPF as they can find entitles them to spend hours exposed to UV rays. This is a dangerous idea.
To maximise the benefits of sunscreen, you first have to pick one that is broad-spectrum and has an SPF of at least 30. This means that the product is able to protect you from both UVA and UVB rays, and blocks out at least 97% of the UVB rays you’re exposed to if and only if it is used exactly as directed. So if you aren’t slathering on plenty of sunscreen on all exposed areas of the skin 20 minutes before going out and reapplying every few hours (and more frequently if you’re outdoors), chances are you are not getting the full benefit of the product.
It may be a chore to do, but it’s a small price to pay if you think about how much it will impact the health and appearance of your skin. So if you’re willing to go through multiple steps in your nightly skincare routine, know that you’re achieving a lot more by applying sunscreen correctly.
2. Cover up
Clothing can be considered as the first line of defence against the sun. It is not just a lot more reliable at skin protection than sunscreen, it’s also much easier to use.
If your goal is to protect your skin from the sun, it’s best to wear dark and brightly coloured clothes instead of white and pastel-colored ones. The former is much better at absorbing rays, while the latter lets them pass through.
Go for synthetic fibers or heavy woven fabrics instead of sheer, light ones. Remember, if you can see light pass through it, it’s likely to let UV rays in too. People who run the risk of skin cancer might prefer clothing with UPF grades, which is kind of like SPF for clothes.
When it comes to sun protective clothing, the more skin you cover up the more protected you are. So if you want full protection, you should cover your legs with long bottoms and your arms with long sleeves.
3. Protect your head and your eyes
The head is not only the part of the body that is most exposed to sunlight, it is also the one with the thinnest skin. As such, we need to pay special attention to this area.
Wearing a hat is the best way to protect your head. Wide-brimmed hats, bucket hats, and legionnaire hats provide the best defense against UV rays. Look for those with tight weaves and broad cover. If you can find one that has a UPF rating, even better!
The sun doesn’t just affect the skin, but the eyes as well. Constant exposure increases the chances of cataracts, growths, and cancer. Wear sunglasses that are labelled at least category 2 on the Australian Standard for eye protection. It’s best to choose the wrap-around type that fits snugly around your head.
4. Seek shade
Staying out of direct sunlight is a great way to protect your skin. So if you’re spending a long time outdoors, consider setting up camp near a tree with a far-reaching and dense canopy, or bring umbrellas or tents to offer protection. The more opaque, the better.
Keep in mind that the sun moves throughout the day, so adjust your position accordingly to stay in the cool shadows.
The threat of sun damage is real. In order to protect ourselves, we have to make use of all the principles of sun protection in the correct way. Buying the products is only half the journey. We must learn how to use them properly too. When we maximise the protection they afford, we can avoid the dangers of sun exposure.
Purpose of this information
The information presented on this website and in this article is for general information and example purposes only, does not contain health advice specific for users and must not be relied on for that purpose. Please see your GP, dermatologist or other health care professional for specific advice.