Safety in numbers

Günel Salih provides an in depth guide to safer tanning and protecting your body’s largest organ – the skin.

Preparation, preparation, preparation

sun-protection-2Tanning is the outward sign of skin that has had to protect itself from ultraviolet attack so preparing to tan safely takes a two-pronged defence strategy – both an internal and external approach. At least a month before you are due to leave for your sun drenched destination, start a course of vitamin and mineral supplements to help your skin to attack the free radicals caused by high sun exposure and to encourage melanogenesis, the process by which melanin is produced to form a protective shield – the desired tan.

Inside Story

Beta-carotene, the vegetable precursor of vitamin A, is highly effective as a skin protective anti-oxidant especially when it is also taken with anti-oxidant vitamins C and E. Beta-carotene is found naturally in dark green leafy vegetables and bright orange vegetables and fruits such as spinach, carrots, apricots, mangoes and cantaloupe melons. At this time of year, make sure you enjoy the abundance of vegetables available for their health giving cocktail of vitamins, minerals and enzymes. (Remember fruit is nature’s candy, high in fructose and will spike insulin – limit yourself to one piece of seasonal fruit a day.) As an extra insurance policy stoke up with supplements from a reputable company making sure your body is ready to deal with a free radical onslaught. These will accelerate early ageing. In one study, taking 30 mg of beta-carotene, 2000 mg of vitamin C and 800 IU of vitamin E each day appeared to protect the skin from sunburn.

Another nutrient that can help the skin by assisting in the production of melanin is the amino acid L-Tyrosine. The conversion of L-Tyrosine into melanin is helped by certain nutrients, notably vitamin C, vitamin B6 and copper. By taking 2000 mg of vitamin C (no need to double dose if following the above dosage for anti-oxidants only), 50 mg of vitamin B6 and 4 mg of copper each day will help to speed up tanning whilst at the same time reducing the risk of sunburn.

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External Protection

The external approach to preparing and protecting the skin for tanning is to apply a pre-tanner or tan accelerator daily for at least a week, or better still, for two weeks before you go away. This will get the skin prepped and primed for sun action. These products can be used instead of your usual body lotion to moisturise your skin and then they double up as tan extenders once your holiday is over. They enable the skin to react to sunlight by bringing on the tanning process before burning. Burning is when the skin turns pink before it browns, the pinkness is the skin’s way of showing an inflammatory response. Never allow your skin to burn, damage has occurred if it does. Before you use a tan accelerator, make sure you exfoliate and buff away any dead and dry skin so that when you do tan it will be healthy looking and it will last longer. Tan accelerators also help those who do not normally tan well to tan better, so they really are worth investing in. Bear in mind that tan accelerators are not fake tans so do not expect them to colour your skin though you may find that you end up with a light tan before your holiday if your skin is exposed to sunlight. Try Elemis Tan Accelerator 400ml £73.60, James Reid Tan Accelerator 200ml £25.00 and Carrot Sun Accelerator Cream 350ml £14.99, at Superdrug stores.

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Paint by numbers

We should all be familiar now with the need to protect ourselves with sun creams when out in the sun and it goes without saying that children need to have a sunblock applied to their skin if it is exposed. They should also wear a hat at all times and sunglasses to protect their eyes. In truth, the same advice is appropriate for adults too, particularly those with fairest skins that do not tan easily.

A burning issue

sun-protection-5Don’t be tempted to use a lower factor of 8, 10 or even 15 in strong sunshine in the false view that a higher factor won’t allow a tan. Higher factors do allow a tan to develop but at a slower pace and without any burning. The benefit of a slow tan is that it will last longer and it will have minimised any skin damage. The higher factor offers longer protection against UV rays. Always start with a higher number until your skin has adjusted to the heat and fairer skins should start with a factor 50 or 60, working down to a 30 or 40 after about a week and finally, a 15 or 20 for the last few days. Very fair skins should stay with a sunblock but if you have prepped your skin with a tan accelerator and you have taken your supplements, you could try coming down to a factor 50 or possibly a 40 at some point in the second week of your holiday. The key is to pay attention to your skin for any signs of discomfort or reddening, respond to its needs and allow a colour to develop under careful management. The aim is to develop a healthy colour. Accept the fact that if you have very fair skin it will not tan easily, there is no point in burning your skin in an attempt to gain colour, fake it instead. A lighter but healthy colour will make a really positive difference to your look and sense of well being.

Mediterranean, Asian and Afro-Caribbean skins though blessed with more melanin with its protective powers still need sun protection. Olive and dark skins can still burn when out in unusually strong sunlight especially if it has become acclimatised to a cool, temperate climate such as the UK’s. Olive skins can start with a factor 30 or possibly a 20 and then move down to a 20 or 15. It is best to not go below 15. Darker than olive skin can start with a factor 20 or possibly a 15 and then stay on a 15 for added assurance. Don’t forget, it’s not just the UVB rays you are protecting yourself against, dark skin also needs protecting from UVA.

A is for ageing, B is for burning

Protection from burning is only half the issue when it comes to sun bathing. While burning is the visible and painful side to sun exposure caused by the sun’s ultra-violet B rays (UVB), silent but deadly harm can also come from the ultra-violet A rays (UVA). These are the sun’s rays which cause effects that  you do not feel or see immediately but can do the long term damage leading to skin aging and skin cancer. This is because they penetrate deeper into the skin layers where they can cause cell mutation by damaging DNA in skin cells. Your sun cream needs to have UVA protection too in order for it to be considered a broad spectrum cream. However, while SPF is the universal measurement of UVB protection, no comparable standard exists for UVA as scientists are still working to develop a worldwide standardized testing and certification method to measure UVA protection. Remember, sun damaged skin shows up in later years as pigmentation marks as well as wrinkling and lines and more tragically as a melanoma, so make sure you protect yourself.

It all adds up

SPFs are multipliers of the number of minutes you can stay safely out in the sun before you burn. If you know you burn after 5 minutes, then a factor 30 should afford you 150 minutes (5 x 30 = 150) out in the sun before you start to burn. I say ‘should’, because there are a number of factors that often reduce this protection time such as not applying enough of the product, sweating out the product, swimming off the product, rubbing off the product and degradation of the product by the sun. The rule of thumb is to reapply your sunscreen every hour to make sure it is working at maximum capacity and always reapply straight after swimming or excessive sweating.

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Timing is everything

The most dangerous time to sunbathe is between 10 am and 3 pm. The recommended times for sunbathing are on either side of these hours. Further protect your head, face and eyes by wearing a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses and if you go out touring in the hottest part of the day, wear lightweight fabric tops with long sleeves and full length trousers in lightweight cotton, linen or silk. Although strong sunshine can penetrate through loose weave, lightweight fabrics, they do nevertheless offer some protection against the sun.

Once a day

If remembering to reapply your sun cream is a nuisance or you have young children that hate being slathered and are in and out of the water all day long, you might want to consider purchasing a once a day application sun cream. You can apply this in the morning and feel safe in the knowledge that the cream will continue to protect throughout the day without the need for reapplication. These creams are applied onto clean dry skin that has had no body lotion or any other creams or oils applied to it. Once applied it needs about 15 minutes to ‘set’ before it will afford full protection so do not go straight out into the sun. If you need to apply body lotion then this can be done after your application of your once a day sun cream has set.  Ultrasun is the industry respected go-to product for once a day application on outdoor workers. Prices start from £16.00 for the clear sports gel SPF 20 125ml, rising to £38.00 for the 100ml SPF 50+ anti-pigmentation cream for the body (ultrasun.com).

A sensitive sort

To avoid sensitivity issues, (bear in mind that while your skin may not normally be sensitive at home it can become sensitive when exposed to strong sunlight) it is best to avoid sun creams created with chemical screens. These work to protect the skin by absorbing the harmful rays of the sun. Look out for sun creams with ingredients such as octocrylene and the benzophenones in their ingredients listings. These ingredients have improved defences against shorter UVA rays but not the longer ones. Better still is the chemical avobenzone (Parsol 1789) that works against all UVA wavelengths, short and long. The sun protection range from Neal’s Yard is ideal for sensitive skins. Neal’s Yard Sun Cream 150ml SPF 15, 30 and 50, £20.00. This is an organic, cruelty free brand too.

Sun creams containing mineral sunblocks such as titanium dioxide that physically deflect the ultra-violet rays are better for sensitive skin and for most skin types if you want to avoid sensitivity issues. Micronized titanium dioxide is better than non-micronised as it has had the mineral particles crushed so minutely so that when the sun cream is applied, it does not leave a white sheen on the skin as older preparations used to.

On fire

sun-protection-7Make sure to cover every bit of exposed skin, such as earlobes, in between toes, backs of neck and get someone to apply your sun protection to your back. It’s these bits of the body that often unwittingly get burnt. If you should burn, then apply copious amounts of a cooling aloe vera gel preparation to cool and soothe sore skin. Aloe vera contains natural healing properties suitable for burns. After, you will need to stay covered and remain out of the sun until your skin has healed. There are lots of products on the market for healing and cooling the skin after a day of sun worshipping. Try SBC Aloe Vera 100ml £9.50. A favourite pampering treat is Liz Earle’s Botanical After Sun Gel with 92% aloe vera to hydrate and calm, premium high-altitude soothing lavender, refreshing cucumber, plus antioxidant natural source vitamin E. 200ml £15.00.

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