It’s virtually impossible not to be exposed to the sun during a typical South African summer, and there’s not much that’s nicer after a long cold winter than feeling the warm sun tingling on your skin.
However, while some sun is beneficial for the skin, too much has the opposite effect and can dry out your skin, your hair and cause lasting damage from excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays which also puts you at risk for skin cancer.
There's no getting around the fact that sunlight is hard on your skin. Age gets blamed for wrinkles and rough, dry skin. But the real culprit is a combination of age and sun that dermatologists call photoaging. The short UVB wavelengths that cause sunburn can also damage DNA. The longer, more penetrating UVA wavelengths may create highly reactive oxygen molecules capable of damaging skin cell membranes and the DNA inside.
Try these tips to help protect yourself from the dangers of the sun without ruining your summer fun:
Be outside but stay in the shade
Between the hours of 10am and 4pm the UV light is strongest and staying in the shade during this time will protect you from the most dangerous rays. If you are on the beach or somewhere near water take extra precautions as the water reflects sunlight, which increases the amount of UV radiation you get. And if you’re taking a dip to cool off, make sure you have sunblock on as the sun’s rays can penetrate the water too.
Dress right to protect your skin and hair
It might seem counterproductive on a hot day to wear a lot of clothing, but if you want to protect your skin and hair from the penetrating UV rays, it’s advisable to wear as much clothing as you can to cover yourself.
Dark colours offer more protection and tightly woven fabric protects better. Some summer clothing has a built-in UV protection, such as rash vests, swimming costumes and some hats, so whenever possible, opt for these.
The hair follicles are also at risk of being damaged with too much sun exposure, so the best way to protect your hair is with a hat. Aim for one that has a wide brim all around to also protect the ears, eyes, forehead, nose, and scalp.
And even if you can handle the brightness, put on a pair of sunglasses when you’re outside to protect the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes. Most sunglasses offer UV protection, but check the labels beforehand.
Wear sunblock all summer long
Whenever you will be exposed to the sun – whether you’re hitting the beach or going for a long drive, put sunblock wherever you’re exposed to the sun. Although it won’t block all UV rays, it will offer substantial protection. Sunblock are available as lotions, creams, ointments, gels, sprays, wipes, and lip balms, and in many cosmetics, such as moisturisers, lipsticks, and foundations.
Understanding a sunblock SPF is important too, as the Sun protection factor (SPF) refers to the level of protection against UVB rays, which are the main cause of sunburn. The higher the SPF number the more UVB protection, however no sunblock protects you completely.
While all the above tips will help protect you from the sun, complete protection is only possible with no exposure to the sun. Which isn’t particularly healthy either. Sun damage creates free radicals in our bodies which, left unchecked can set off a chain reaction that can be difficult to control, usually causing cell damage. Increasing your vitamin intake during summer, especially with Vitamins A, C and E which are good antioxidants, helps to neutralise free radicals and prevent them from doing too much damage and help the body repair any damage that’s already been done.
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