Sitting out in the sun is good for your body, especially if you are low on vitamin D3, that essential nutrient that supports calcium absorption so important for healthy bones. In fact, healthcare practitioners recommend spending some time in the sun to get your daily dose of the ‘sunshine’ vitamin. But that’s for 10 minutes only in the mild morning sun before the clock strikes 12 – just a few times a week.
Beyond that, the ultraviolet (UV) rays cause more harm than good. According to American Academy of Dermatologists the worst time to be out in the sun is between 10 am and 2 pm, while the Sun Safety Alliance recommends staying out of the sun from 10 am to 4 pm. Basically, the rule of thumb is that you should avoid sun exposure when the sun is directly overhead as the UV rays are the strongest and can cause maximum damage to your skin. In the event, you must go out during this time, then you need to protect your skin from the rays and photo-damage.
Why fear the UV rays?
Most of us already know that the UV rays from the sun are harmful for our skin. But are you aware that the two types of UV rays that are there – UVA and UVB – have different effects on the skin and cause different kinds of damage? Unprotected exposure to the rays not only causes skin damage, but also eye damage, immune system suppression and skin cancer or melanoma.
Sunlight has 3 types of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA rays have the longest wavelength, UVB has medium wavelength and UVC has the shortest. UVA and UVB rays can penetrate the ozone layer and get transmitted through the atmosphere, UVC rays get absorbed by Earth’s ozone layer. Our skin is exposed to mostly UVA rays and a bit of UVB rays.
So, what’s more harmful? Both of them really. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin and harm the lower layers of the skin leading to dryness, premature aging, and wrinkles. UVB rays on the other hand cause sunburn and compromise your immune system. Both UVA and UVB rays are also responsible for melanoma – a dangerous form of skin cancer.
By the way, you don’t have to have a sunny day to be exposed to the UV radiation. These little rays of sunshine can penetrate through the clouds and harm your skin. So even on cloudy, grey days your skin stands the chance of photodamage.
Signs of skin damage due to UV rays
Damage to the skin due to UV rays is often termed as photodamage. Photodamage appears on most visible parts of your body - the face, neck, and back of the hands. These areas often receive a lot of sun exposure. In women, the décolleté or the neck and chest area, shoulders and back also show signs of damage. You might be surprised to know that even your lips can show signs of excessive sun damage. Here’s a checklist of signs that you can refer to, to see whether your skin is damaged due to the UV rays.
- Fine wrinkles around the eyes and mouth, and frown lines on the forehead.
- Uneven, patchy complexion with melanin deposition in certain areas of your face.
- Increased sensitivity, itchiness and skin redness.
- You see spider veins on the nose, cheeks, and neck.
- Various pigmented spots, such as freckles, and an uneven skin colour.
- A general loss of skin tone in sun exposed areas, sagging skin.
- Dryness and feeling of tautness after staying under the sun.
- Dry, chapped lips that start to lose some colour and fullness. Lips feel tight and look drawn, pale, and thin.
- Change in skin texture – often leathery and rough.
- Broken blood vessels on the nose and cheeks are often visible.
- Red, rough scaly spots, called actinic (sun-related) keratoses, may appear. These may be pre-cancerous and require treatment for this reason.
The next part will deal with how to deal with how to use sunscreen wisely and tips on application.