FACT OR FICTION
Some damage from sunburn is reversible.
FACT Within limits, skin has a natural capacity to repair damage. However, some injuries persist and accumulate over a lifetime, resulting in the wrinkly old lady at the pool, or in serious cases, irreversible DNA damage and skin cancer. Skin’s ability to repair varies from person to person, depending on skin type and genetics. But if you want to slather on something useful, Victoria-based dermatologist and laser surgeon Dr. Mark Lupin suggests a daily dose of an antioxidant such as a pharmaceutical-grade vitamin C cream. And Dr. Lisa Kellett, dermatologist at Toronto’s DLK on Avenue, points to the benefits of vitamin A topical booster to help reverse some signs of photoaging.
Sunscreen can cause redness and blotchy dry patches.
FACT First, make sure the real culprit isn’t unevenly applied sunscreen, which can result in a sporadic sunburn, and consider that an average 16 percent of the population can develop a rash from the sun. However, some sunscreens can cause irritation. Your best bet is to try a looniesized amount on your arm and cheek for any reaction within 72 hours of application. If you are allergic, look for fragrance- and chemical-free sunscreens containing micronized titanium dioxide and/or zinc oxide.
You must apply your sunscreen at least 15 minutes prior to sun exposure.
FACT To maximize protection, Health Canada recommends applying sunscreen 15-30 minutes prior to exposure, as sunscreens need to bind to the protein in your skin. The Canadian Dermatology Association suggests one ounce of lotion (equivalent to about a full shot glass) as the average amount needed to cover all your exposed body parts. Don’t forget lip balm with a minimum SPF of 15, sunglasses and a hat!
You should always choose the maximum available SPF for the greatest protection.
FICTION The Canadian Dermatology Association recommends wearing an SPF of at least 15. But the amount of sunscreen used is also important, as is reapplication. “If you apply a sufficient amount of the sunscreen and reapply every two hours, then SPF 15 is good,” says Dr. Lupin. “Studies show most of us only apply enough sunscreen to get half of its SPF value. Therefore, I recommend at least SPF 30.” Those who have a sun-sensitive condition, such as sun allergy or lupus, may want to opt for a higher SPF. Your choice of SPF also depends upon your skin’s sensitivity to sunburn, the duration of sun exposure and your activity (are you playing golf or going for a swim?). A water- or sweat-proof sunscreen is best if you participate in water sports. Once again, reapplication is important regardless of the sunscreen you use.
Clothing protects your skin from harmful rays.
FACT But it depends on the clothing. The rule of thumb? If it’s wet or you can see through it, the sun protection is poor. If your duds are dark, tightly woven and loose fitting, or you’re sporting a specialized brand with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of at least 50, then you truly are covered up.
A tanning bed allows you to build a safe tan.
FICTION Our experts agree: there is no such thing as a safe tan. Every source of UV rays can inflict skin damage. If you’re looking for that faux summer glow, splurge on sunless tanning products instead.
White freckles are more dangerous than normal freckles.
FICTION White freckles are no more dangerous than normal freckles, but they are a warning sign, says Dr. Anderson. White areas occur when the cells that provide colour are so sun damaged they no longer produce any colour. These areas are also prone to burning and skin cancer if not adequately protected. When in doubt, consult a dermatologist.
Sun exposure is an important source of vitamin D.
FACT But that doesn’t justify baking our bodies outside or in a tanning bed. Sun exposure in the summer to the face and back of hands for 15 minutes three times per week is sufficient. Understandably, in our northern climate, sometimes even short daily exposure is impossible, but Dr. Kellett recommends paying attention to your diet and adding a daily multivitamin with vitamin D.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UVA AND UVB? Sunlight consists of harmful UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays (which can’t pass through glass) are burning rays and are the primary cause of sunburn and skin cancer. UVA rays (which pass through glass) penetrate deeper into the base layer of the skin, contributing to sunburns and skin cancer. Both UVA and UVB rays can compromise your immune system, making it less effective in protecting you against skin cancer. The SPF number reflects the product’s screening ability for UVB rays – there is no current approved rating system for UVA protection. For this reason, the Canadian Dermatology Association recommends a broad-spectrum sunscreen. Look for ingredients such as salicylates, oxybenzone, sulisobenzone, titanium dioxide, zinc oxide and avobenzone (known under the trade name Parsol 1789).
WHAT IS AN SPF NUMBER?
SPF (sun protection factor) rating is based on the time it takes sunscreen-protected skin to burn compared to the time needed for unprotected skin to burn. If a person who normally burns after 10 minutes wears SPF 15, she’ll now burn after 150 minutes. But the percentage of damaging rays blocked does not increase proportionately by SPF number. For example, an SPF 30 absorbs or blocks about 97 percent of sun-burning rays, while SPF 15 absorbs or blocks about 93 percent. Plainly, SPF 15 allows seven percent of the UV radiation through the sunscreen film, whereas SPF 30 lets only three percent through. –N.D.