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Most people of color especially dark skinned Africans think that sunscreen is meant for only the Europeans and other white/fair skinned nationalities. In fact, it is always likened to the skin care regimen for white skinned women only. Unknown to many, early civilizations understood the importance of photoprotection and tried, tested and used different methods of sun protection.
What is photoprotection and why should you be concerned? Photoprotection is the biochemical process that helps organisms cope with molecular damages caused by sunlight. Understanding thisthreat from the sun to the human body, they used variety of plant products to help protect their skin from sun damage. The ancient Greeks used olive oil, ancient Egyptians used extracts of rice, jasmine and lupine plants, nomadic sea going Filipinos, Malaysians and Indonesians used pastes made from water weeds, rice and spices.
A French chemist named Eugene Schueller, who was also the founder of L’Oreal, introduced the early synthetic sunscreen for use in 1928. It was then brought into the commercial market in 1936. The improved versions of this formula by many other chemists are what you see in the consumer market today.Why do I need a sunscreen? How does it work?What type of sunscreen should I use? When should I apply it? How much should I use? What happens if I don’t use it? Is it safe for me to use on my skin? All these questions will be answered as you read on.
WHAT IS A SUNSCREEN?
A sunscreen is a lotion, spray, gel, foam or stick used topically to protect the skin from the ultraviolet(UV) radiations of the sun. It is an important skin care product you should use, and also part of a complete sun protection regimen.
Sunscreen works by either absorbing, scattering, reflecting, or blocking UV radiations, preventing it from reaching the deeper layers of your skin. Wearing sunscreen does not mean that you can stay out in the sun for a long period of time as it does not protect you completely from all the sun’s radiations. Combining its use with other methods of protection like wearing of protective clothing, use of sunglasses, wearing of hats, and staying under shades as much as possible ensures effective protection from the damaging effects of the sun.
Photo credit: Dr Sylvia skin care
TYPES OF SUNSCREEN
There are two major types of sunscreen which protects the skin from the two types of radiation (UVA/UVB) produced by the sun.
Physical sunscreens:These arealso referred to as sunblock. They are inorganic particulates or minerals like titanium and zinc oxide, opaque in color, and aremade with heavy carrier oils to resist being washed off easily. They sit on the surface of the skin, act as a shield and may leave white residues. They can make you look white cast if not rubbed in properly or applied too much. They are effective at blocking, reflecting and scattering both UVA and UVB radiations before they can penetrate the skin. They are usually recommended by dermatologists for people with sensitive skin.
Chemical sunscreens: These are organic chemicals like avobenzone and octisalate. They are easy to rub into the skin without leaving white residues. They absorb 90% of the UV radiation and scatter10% of UV radiation before it can damage your skin.
USES OF SUNSCREEN
When used as directed by the manufacturer, doctor or pharmacist, sunscreen is proven to;
- Lowers your risk of skin cancers and skin pre-cancers. This is because daily use of SPF 15 sunscreen can reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40%, and lower your melanoma risk by 50%.
- Helps prevent premature aging caused by the sun including wrinkles, age spots, leathery skin, sagging etc.
- Helps prevent tanning and sunburn due to over exposure to the sun.
- Helps mitigate skin reactions from sun sensitivity caused by some medications like tetracycline, sulfa drugs, phenothiazine etc.
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THE 6 GOLDEN RULES OF SUNSCREEN
- Everyone under the sun should use sunscreen. Children under 6 months of age, boys, girls, women and men of all ages and color. Babies under 6 months have highly sensitive skin and this excludes them from using it. Your skin color or race does not matter as everyone is susceptible to the damaging effects of the sun.
- Broad spectrum SPF 15 or higher should be applied daily. This includes when you are indoor or outdoor, and whether the weather is sunny, cloudy or rainy.
- Wear your sunscreen 30 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply every 2hrs of exposure to the sun, immediately after swimming, and also after excessive sweating.
- Apply sunscreen all over your entire body. Add more coverage on the exposed part of your skin.
- Use one ounce (2 table spoon full or a shot glass full) of sunscreen for your entire body for every application. Do not use too little of your sunscreen in other to save cost. A good coverage equals a good protection from the sun.
- Daily application of sunscreen to your entire body reduces your risk of skin damage and skin cancer from UV radiation. You and I know how deadly cancer is. We also know how expensive the treatment is for the lucky few that got diagnosed early. So play safe.
ARE SUNSCREENS SAFE?
Both types of sunscreen have undergone vigorous tests and have beencertified safe for topical application on the skin. However, physical sunscreens are considered safer because they are less likely to cause any kind of skin irritation than chemical sunscreens.
VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY
Sunscreen prevents UV light from reaching the skin, and even moderate protection can cause substantial reduction in vitamin D synthesis. Due to raised concerns about potential vitamin D deficiency from the prolonged use of sunscreen, moderate exposure of the face, arms and legs to the early morning sunlight, 2-3 times per week, without wearing a sunscreen, could help in the production of adequate amount of vitamin D needed your body. You also get the vitamin D you need from food and/or vitamin supplements.
SIDE EFFECTS OF SUNSCREEN
- May stain your clothes as some sunscreen products contain aminobenzoic acid or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA). Most countries have banned the use of these ingredients in sunscreens.
- You may have allergic reactions like irritation, redness, rash, acne, itching or swelling may occur if you are sensitive to any of the active or inactive ingredients in your sunscreen. Immediately stop the use of your sunscreen, wash it off from your skin, and contact your doctor or pharmacist to proffer a solution and also recommend another product.
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ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECTS OF SUNSCREEN
According to reports, certain sunscreens in water under UV light can increase the production of hydrogen peroxide, which causes significant damages to phytoplankton. Some media reports and a 2015 study published in Archives of Environmental Contamination Toxicology linked oxybenzone to juvenile coral life decline. The purported link is widely disputed within the environmental community. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has indicated that coral decline is associated with effects from climates change, overfishing, pollution from agriculture, waste water, and urban run-offs.
However, in 2018, the pacific nation of Palau became the first country to ban sunscreen products containing oxybenzone, octinoxate and some other elements causing harm to the water body.
Store your sunscreen at room temperature away from direct heat of the sun and light. A standard sunscreen has a 3-year shelf life. Do not flush your expired product or product that has changed color and consistency down the drain and toilet. Properly discard products according to manufacturer’s instructions.
Read the label of the sunscreen very carefully before buying. This is to identify ingredients you may be allergic to, and also know the expiry date of the product. Because sunscreen is considered a drug, tell your doctor or pharmacist if you are allergic to any of the sunscreen ingredients. Also, if there is no expiry date on the product you purchased, count down to 12 months from the date of purchase then stop use once it gets to a year.
Summer is to Europe, America, Asia what dry season is to West Africa. It is a season of intense sunshine. You may feel the need to wear less clothing while outdoors due to the heat, but do not forget the dangers that result from such exposure. Be kind to your skin, use a sunscreen at this time of the year to avoid had I known and many trips to your doctor in the future. A stitch in time they say saves nine.
There are many brands of sunscreen products to choose from and most are drugstore brands that are very affordable. All you need is to choose the one that will suit your skin type. Do the right thing by changing what you have been doing wrong in your skin care regimen. Be smart, be healthy, be sun-safe.