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Sun Savvy

The bare truth about sunlight and your skin

Sunlight consists of three components, namely visible light, infrared and ultraviolet radiation (UVR). UVR is commonly encountered and considered to be the one which causes the greatest damage to health.Untitled-1

As UVR is absorbed in our skies, the amount of it that will be present at any point on our planet is dependent on the distance from the equator. Being just ten degrees from the equator, Singapore receives a great amount of UVR. Hence, it is important to understand the impact of UVR on health and how to protect ourselves from its harmful effects.

The Good News is…                        

  • Bone Bounty – UVR is needed for the synthesis of Vitamin D, which is required for absorption of calcium from the gut and hence vital for bone formation. Without it, bones will become weak and brittle and may be broken easily.
  • Body Works – UVR also has other effects on modulation of cell growth, neuromuscular and immune function, and reduction of inflammation.
  • Blissful Beams – In addition, there are also other psychological effects – many people have reported enhanced well-being after sun exposure.
  • Brown is Beautiful – Social influences in fashion in some cultures also dictate that the suntan is attractive and a sign of improved socioeconomic status.

Now for the Bad News… 

All Wrinkled Up

On the other hand, UVR also causes damage to the cells of the skin. It has been estimated that 95% of age-associated skin problems can be attributed to sun exposure. Chronic overexposure to the sun changes the texture and weakens the elastic properties of the skin. The epidermis, which is the outer layer of the skin, thickens, becomes leathery, and wrinkles as a result of sun exposure.

A look at the difference in skin tone and wrinkles between the underside of a person’s arm and the top side of the same arm would illustrate the effects of UVR most distinctly.  In most cases, the top side of the arm has had more exposure to the sun and shows greater sun damage. Sun-induced skin damage causes wrinkles and furrows, easy bruising, and even pre-cancerous lesions (known as actinic keratosis).

On the Spot

For Asians, UVR exposure will also lead to the higher likelihood of the development of dyspigmentation, which causes uneven pigmentation of the skin. Examples of such dyspigmentation include solar lentigenes (flat, brown or black spots on sun-exposed skin) and melasma (patches of dark skin).

Cancer Causer

Chronic UVR exposure can also cause skin cancers, through its effect on the DNA of the cells in the skin, suppression of the immune system and other complex biological mechanisms.

Globally, changes in lifestyle have resulted in a great rise in skin cancer incidence, where between two and three million non-melanoma skin cancers and 132000 melanoma skin cancers occur globally each year. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, one in every three cancers diagnosed is a skin cancer.

While skin cancers may occur in much higher incidence in countries with a larger proportion of Caucasian population due to differences in skin type and lifestyle, skin cancer is not uncommon in Singapore. 1595 cases of skin cancer in Singapore men and 1331 in Singapore women were diagnosed every year, according to data from Trends in Cancer Incidence in Singapore 2009 – 2013 (Singapore Cancer Registry). Skin cancer ranks as the sixth most common cancer for both men and women in Singapore.

Please Practise Photo-protection!

The impact of UV on the skin is cumulative and it is never too early or too late to start photo-protection.

Run from the Sun

The American Academy of Paediatrics advises that children below six months of age practise sun avoidance due to the sensitivity of the skin at that age. There should be an attempt to seek shade whenever possible. Adults should also avoid the sun whenever possible.

Clothed and Covered

For adults, when performing outdoor activities, clothing made with photo-protective textiles which are tightly woven and loose-fitting clothing which covers as much skin as possible should be worn. Some clothing may have special coatings to help absorb UV rays. Sun-protective clothes may have a label listing the UV protection factor (UPF) value, which indicates the ability of the clothes to protect from the sun. The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays.

This should be used in combination with wide-brimmed hats which provide coverage for the eyes, ears, face, and back or neck. Sunglasses should be chosen to have suitable optical filtering such that they allow adequate ambient light intensity and provide 99% – 100% UVA and UVB protection.

Sunscreen Keen

Broad spectrum sunscreen of above Solar Protective Factor (SPF) 30 should be used with emphasis placed on the right quantity, uniformity and spectrum absorbed. For extended outdoor activity, use a water-resistant, broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. About two tablespoons of sunscreen should be applied on the entire body 15 to 30 minutes before going outside. The sunscreen should also be reapplied every two hours or immediately after swimming or excessive sweating.

Check Yourself Out

You should also perform skin self-examinations frequently and any changes in any spots of the skin should be reported to a qualified doctor who can perform a more thorough physical examination.

Dial a Doctor

If required, advice on the effects of sunlight and photo-protection should always be obtained from a qualified skin doctor (i.e. a dermatologist).

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Shunjie Chua is an MD candidate at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore. Associate Professor Steven Thng is Senior Consultant at Head Pigment Clinic, National Skin Centre, and Adjunct Associate Professor at Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Posted by ezyhealth on Feb 3 2015. Filed under Aesthetics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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