Hot town, summer in the city, back of my neck gettin’ dirty and gritty . . . and sunburnt.
Uncomfortable and funny-looking, yes, but sunburn can lead to far more than a red neck. At the very best, excessive sun exposure can contribute to premature wrinkles; at worst, it’s a shortcut to skin cancer. Yeah, not the cheeriest subject to think about, what with summer and the promise of beach balls, barbeques and bathing suits just around the corner. But protecting yourself is easy—the Weekly tells you how.
According to Angela Perin, author of Your Personal Guide to Tanning, sunburn results when the amount of exposure to the sun or other UV light source (such as a tanning bed) exceeds the ability of the body’s protective pigment, melanin, to protect the skin. Anyone who has spent 30 minutes in the car with the window down and their arm out the window on a hot day and ended up looking like a one-armed lobster knows it doesn’t take much.
In general, darker skin tends to have more melanin than fairer skin, but even very dark-skinned people are at risk of getting scorched. Sunburn destroys cells in the outer layer of skin, damages the tiny blood vessels underneath, and ravages the elastic fibers, which over time leads to yellowed, wrinkled skin. The damage to skin cells can also include damage to the DNA, which, in turn, can lead to three different kinds of skin cancer, some of which have the potential to be deadly. Keep in mind that skin cancer can develop and establish itself inside the body long before you can see it on the outside, so don’t think that sunburn you got last summer doesn’t matter. But it can matter less if you take the following steps:
1. Lube yourself up with sunscreen (at least 15 SPF) all the time, even when it’s cloudy out. Apply it generously and don’t forget to reapply, especially if you’ve been in water or sweating. Technically, SPF is the ratio of the time it takes to produce a skin reaction on protected skin versus unprotected skin; thus, if a fair-skinned person normally turns red in 10 minutes of unprotected exposure, a 15 SPF sunscreen should provide 150 minutes of cover. However, in reality, the protection is usually less, so keep it up. If you don’t like thick, greasy sun blocks, try one of the lighter products now offered by Dove, Olay or Clarins.
2. Wear protective clothing such as loose, long-sleeved shirts and long pants in light colors that reflect light rather than absorb it. It’s also a great idea to wear a wide-brimmed hat (most people forget to apply sunscreen to the parts in their hair and the tops of their ears).
3. Try to avoid or limit direct sun exposure during the most brutal hours, between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m.
4. Ask your doctor if the medications you’re taking increase your sensitivity to sun, and remember that snow and sand reflect light and increase your risk of burning.
5. If you really want that golden glow, invest in a self-tanning lotion. Just remember that these lotions don’t actually protect you from the sun unless they contain SPF, so either find a product that does, or double-up with another product.
Taking care of your skin, the human body’s largest organ, isn’t about just one summer; it’s about ensuring you have healthy, happy summers for many years to come.