Your skin is your first line of defence against the elements and like many outer coatings it can take a battering. But it can also be luxurious, sensuous, soft to the touch. Depending on how you treat it, your skin can be your best asset or your worst enemy.
The sun brightens our days; it lifts our spirits with a natural dose of vitamin D; it literally gives life. But there is no such thing as safe tanning, warns Cape Town-based dermatologist Dr Dilshaad Asmal: ‘The notion of needing to look nut-brown from sun-tanning is an outdated one – the reality is that too much exposure causes premature ageing, sun damage and skin-related cancers.’
More than 3.5 million skin cancers are diagnosed in more than 2 million people annually and South African skins are especially at risk: the country is second only to Australia for the highest incidence of skin cancer on the planet. The first and most essential step to maintaining healthy, beautiful skin is to protect it from UV rays.
Who needs sunscreen?
‘In a word: Everyone!’ says Lauren De Leiburn of nationwide beauty salon chain, Sorbet. While ethnic skins are more protected from the sun because of their high melatonin content, which offers protection from the sun, all skin types are at risk of developing skin cancer and everyone requires sunscreen for optimal protection. Especially vulnerable are individuals with fair skin, particularly those with red hair, or people who spend hours working or playing sports in the sun.
When should I use it, how often and how much?
Sunscreen should be applied every day to exposed skin – and not just if you are going to be in the sun, says Lauren. Sunscreens should be applied to dry skin 15 to 30 minutes BEFORE going outdoors. When using sunscreen, be sure to apply it to all exposed areas and pay particular attention to the face, ears, hands and arms. Coat the skin liberally and rub it in thoroughly — most people apply only 25 to 50 percent of the recommended amount of sunscreen.
What SPF should you use?
Most areas in Southern Africa are classified as ‘High – Extremely High’ on the UV index. This represents a high risk to unprotected skins and medical experts recommend using an SPF of at least 20. ‘Today’s well-established sunscreen brands are so well-researched and carefully tested that’s there is virtually no danger they contain harmful chemicals,’ says Dr Asmal. ‘The sun has an infinitely greater capacity to damage your skin.’
Is wearing sunscreen sufficient protection?
‘Just wearing sunscreen is not enough – you need to be be sun-savvy too,’ says Dr Asmal. She advises wearing protective gear such as a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when outdoors, and reapplying sunscreen regularly. ‘Avoid being directly exposed to the sun during the peak hours of 11am to 3pm – find a shady spot or go inside.’
Does sunscreen expire?
Unless indicated by an expiration date, the FDA requires that all sunscreens be stable and at their original strength for at least three years.