Break the habit: I get sunburnt every year
What damage am I doing?
Unquestionably some, potentially a lot.
Sunbathing destroys the elastic fibres that keep skin looking firm and smooth. That leads to earlier wrinkles, blotches, freckles and discoloration. More important, sunburns contribute significantly to cancers of the skin.
If you've augmented a sun-kissed colour with trips to the tanning salon, beware. Using tanning beds doesn't, as advertisements suggest, build up a ‘safe’ base tan—it raises your risk of skin cancer and wrinkles.
"If you love sunbathing or make an effort to maintain a golden-bronze tan, you've unwittingly contributed to the ageing of your skin."
In one study, researchers found that tanning-bed aficionados were as much as twice as likely to develop one of the three common forms of skin cancer as people who don't use tanning beds. Some beds put out higher levels of ultraviolet (UV) rays than the UV levels emitted by the midday summer sun.
Also, beware of using sunscreen as an excuse to stay in the sun for longer. In two European studies, people who used sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 30 had up to 25 per cent more daily sun exposure than those using SPF 10 products.
Sunscreens also reduce vitamin D formation which is vital for strong teeth and bones and an important factor in protection against certain cancers and other diseases far more effectively than they protect against sunburn.
Can I undo the damage?
Maybe. Sun exposure, especially if your quest for the perfect tan has left you sunburnt, damages skin in ways that it was previously thought couldn't be repaired.
However, nowadays various cosmetic treatments such as dermabrasion, chemical peels, laser and pulsed light therapy, and drugs such as retinoic acid, may help to reverse some of the signs of sun-related ageing.
Researchers now think it may even be possible to reverse sunburn damage.
Read more: 4 Foods that fight sun damage
Your repair plan
- See your doctor with any skin problems
If you develop any unusual lumps, bumps, colour or shape changes in a mole, see your doctor promptly for a proper evaluation.
- Know a danger sign when you see it
A melanoma may be blackish/brownish with irregular edges but it could also be red, pink or waxy, or it could be a sore that just won't heal. Other warning signs include itching, bleeding, sensitivity to touch or obvious growth. Basically, anything that doesn't look right to you on your skin deserves to be checked by a doctor.
- Always wear sunscreen when outdoors
Keep high SPF (sun protection factor) sunscreens by your back door, in your car, in your bag or anywhere else handy. Get in the habit of taking 30 seconds on your way out the door to rub some on your face, scalp and exposed areas of the arms and legs.
- Get your glow from a self-tanning product instead of the sun
Tanning creams and gels can give your skin a bronzed look without the cancer risk.
- Stay safe in the sun
Stay in the shade or wear a broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses, long sleeves and trousers during the peak sunburn hours of 10am to 4pm.
- At the beach, wear a sun-protection water shirt
Surfers wear these. They are the equivalent of a high SPF sunblock lotion, and they don't wash off in water.
- Try the tomato diet
Eat more tomatoes—they're packed with lycopene, a powerful antioxidant, and may help to protect against sun damage even more effectively than sunscreen, according to research by the University of Manchester. Dermatologist Professor Lesley Rhodes says that "the tomato diet boosted the level of pro-collagen skin significantly. These increasing levels suggest potential reversal of the skin ageing process.
- Sip green tea
There is some evidence that polyphenols in green tea may protect your cells against cancer-causing sun damage.