Over the years (and centuries) the relation of society with the sun has evolved. How do you think this evolution has been? Are we now more aware of the harmful effects of the sun?
The beauty standards, including tanning of the skin, have varied greatly from one society to another and over time. In Eastern societies they flee from the tan because a whiter skin is considered more beautiful. The same was true at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, tanning was synonymous with working in the field or outdoors, more typical, therefore, of low social classes. The wealthier social classes protected their skin from the rays of the sun. It is in the 60’s when tanning becomes fashionable as a sign of beauty and health. In the late 90’s and early 20th century! The fashion of the tan reaches its maximum. The tanning booths multiply and we see them appear in all cities. It is from then on when a larval campaign of awareness of the harmful effects of the solar exhibition begins and we see how slowly the tanning fashion is losing adepts. Nowadays, society is much more aware of the harmful effects of the sun and that has been changing our behaviour and relationship with solar exposure.
“Maybe we’ve gone from one extreme to the other, not worrying at all about overdoing it. Is it possible that the obsession with the harmful effects of the sun is causing us other ailments, such as Vitamin D deficiency? I wonder what are the beneficial effects of the sun? How does our relationship with the sun have to be so that it is beneficial?
As in everything, balance and moderation are key. Not being exposed at all to the sun can have negative consequences on our mood, our ability to socialize or our levels of vitamin D. It is estimated that exposing us 20 minutes a day in shirt sleeves and shorts is enough to maintain optimal levels Of vitamin D. However, according to recent studies, 82% of the Spanish population has vitamin D deficiency. In these cases my advice is to take dietary supplements containing vitamin D instead of increasing exposure to the sun.
Returning to the harmful effects of the sun, how can we have a bad relationship with the sun and why?
Excessive exposure to the sun increases the risk of skin cancer. It is necessary to remember that in Spain 4000 melanomas are diagnosed annually, which is the most dangerous cutaneous tumour. Skin cancer is one of the tumours that has increased its incidence in recent years, with sun exposure being the main cause of that increase. In addition, the sun is one of the factors that most influences the skin aging, through the appearance of wrinkles and spots. I always tell my patients that the most beautiful skins are those that have seen little sun.
How can we adequately protect ourselves from the sun? Do we have to do it every day or only when we go to the beach? For example, every day I walk from the station to the work, which takes about 25 minutes. During this journey I expose myself to the sun’s rays. Should I protect myself? What methods can I use if I use make-up and cannot apply sunscreen after a few hours?
We have a misconception of what “sunbathing” means. “Sunbathing” is not only lying on the beach, but also when we walk down the street on a sunny day, go to the mountains, play golf or go to the park with children. Therefore, we should not only worry about protecting ourselves from the sun on the beach, but also from other situations. Answering the question about your specific case, perhaps in autumn and winter you do not need to protect yourself for a journey of 25 minutes walking but in spring and summer yes, it is advisable to apply a photo protector before makeup or use moisturizers with photo protection. If you cannot replace the photo protector every 2 hours a good tip is to take photo protection orally to increase protection against ultraviolet radiation. I recommend to my patients to take oral photo protectors, that also contain vitamin D, from May to September, for example.
For people who cannot apply sun cream every two hours, what would you advise them? Would it depend on the patient’s hydration, photo type or pathology?
Sunscreen is not the only way to protect against ultraviolet radiation. Children, people with fair skin and light eyes (what dermatologists call low photo types) and people with pathologies that are aggravated by exposure to the sun, should wear protective clothing (sunglasses, cap, t-shirt) and can take oral photo protection to increase the levels of defense against the sun.
What steps do we have to take to live in harmony with the sun?
Being aware if you live in a sunny country and that the harmful effects of the sun you take today you will not notice this year or next year but in 20 or 30 years. Better safe than sorry, using sun protection whenever we are going to be exposed to the sun, increase protection levels with the use of oral photo protectors, use appropriate clothing and sunglasses and avoid exposure in the hours of maximum sunshine (from 12 to 16h) are the most sensible measures.
In the case of more specific ailments like for example, solar allergies, sensitivity to the sun, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis etc. What kind of care should we take? Do these ailments have any direct relationship to poor management of sun exposure?
In conditions such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis, exposure to the sun usually improves the disease and in certain cases dermatologists “prescribe” sunbathing. It will have to be done following the recommendations of the dermatologist, in a moderate way and using a photo protector.
There are other pathologies that are produced by exposure to the sun or worsen with it. In these cases it will be necessary to increase the measures of photo protection using sun protection creams, oral photo protectors and suitable garments.
Dra. Cristina Eguren
Clínica Eguren Dermatología y Estética