Ah, summertime! Days filled with picnics, barbecues, beach trips, outdoor swimming, and increased outside activities. But, don’t forget, days also filled with higher heat, humidity and the potential for severe sunburn, if care is not taken.
Do you know the science behind turning a raisin into a grape? The heat from the sun causes the water to evaporate, shrinking the grape. The sun also heats up the sugar causing carmelization, thus making the raisin sweet.
Now, imagine you are a grape, technically we could be considered one with all our water content and glucose we have on board, but we are not grapes. But, to my point, just imagine you are one. You have gone on a beach trip weekend to just lie in the sun and soak it all in. For three days, you bake in the heat in search of that golden tan that everyone perceives as a picture of health. Sure, you slather on the sunscreen, once, but you lie out there for hours, roasting like a pig on a stick. You remember to flip from front to back periodically, if you don’t fall asleep. At the end of those three days, do you resemble a raisin? Bwaahaahaa…of course you don’t…but do this every summer, coupled with the other times you are in the sun and you may not turn into a raisin, but you have done irreversible damage to your skin.
Pallor skin tones prior to the industrial revolution was deemed as a sign of upper class or even nobility. If you were pale, it was perceived that you lived a life of luxury or leisure spent indoors. Dark skin signified time spent outdoors, usually by field workers or serfs. In history, some cultures even took to using toxic substances to whiten their skin. So, when did the concept of pale skin was in change? Around the mid 1920s, tanning started to become the new aspiration of the wealthy. By the mid 1970’s sunless tanning lotions and tanning beds were implemented to add color to our skin.
So why the little history lesson? Because by the early 2000’s, malignant melanoma, a type of deadly skin cancer with metastatic properties, was on the rise with nearly 85,000 cases being diagnosed each year. It is the 5th most common type of cancer and it is preventable in 90% of the cases.
I don’t mean to be a killjoy here. I like a healthy tanned glow, too, but I also practice these guidelines to decrease my unhealthy exposure to the sun:
- Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen…of at least SPF 30. And not just once and done. If you read the back of the bottle, tube or tub of your favorite brand, 99% of them say to reapply after 80 minutes of continuous sun exposure or after being in the water. Now, raise your hand, how many people adhere to this important guideline? Yeah, it’s a drag to remember to apply and reapply sunscreen. Even if you have a dark complexion or olive toned skin or have black skin, sunscreen will minimize your risk of damaged skin.
- Wear protective clothing…hats, sunglasses, long blousy shirts or pants when outdoors working for prolonged periods of time. Ever drive by a landscaping crew working in someone’s yard? What are they wearing? Long pants, long sleeved shirts, and hats. They understand the hazards of too much sun exposure.
- Avoid peak times outdoors…the sun is at its most intense in the middle of the day, between 10am and 2pm. Capture your tanning opportunities before or after those peak times.
- NO TANNING BEDS…an 75% increase in melanoma has been linked to indoor tanning.
- Have a yearly skin check…see your primary doctor, or better yet, a dermatologist and get a once over from head to toe. In between that yearly visit, perform random skin checks on yourself and report any abnormal lesions or moles to your doctor. Caught early, skin cancer is curable.
Now, skin cancer is the worst consequence from having unprotected, prolonged or repeated exposures to the sun. What else is there? Well, let’s go back to the grape-to-raisin scenario again. Although we do not turn into a raisin from a few days in the sun, over time we begin to look like one.
Sun exposure can:
- Attribute to nearly 90% of the aging of our skin. It causes wrinkles, pigmentation changes, sun spots, reduces skin’s elasticity and degrades its texture. Over time, the increased number of wrinkles, darkened skin spots, and sagging or lack of elasticity in the skin becomes more pronounced. Collagen is degraded from repeated sun exposure, and hydration becomes a problem as all layers of the skin are affected by prolonged sun exposure.
- Cause sunburn or cancer, but also, cataracts, eye inflammation and can reduce the effectiveness of one’s autoimmune system, causing increased risk for illness.
Have you ever seen someone who looked like a dried-up grape? I lived in Florida for 9 years…. I saw quite a few of these people. They were the year-round tanned people, skin dark and the texture of a cow’s hide. Their skin no longer retained moisture, thereby causing a great number of wrinkles and pretty much zero elasticity, especially in the skin of the face, arms and chest. Best part, or probably worst, when asked their age, they physically looked 15-20 years older than their stated age.
Life’s trials, challenges, obstacles and disappointments already contribute to the aging process. Why would you want to hurry it along with unprotected sun exposure? I am not saying don’t go out into the sun and enjoy life, but rather, remember to keep sun sense about you. Slather on the sunscreen, reapply as directed, wear the protective clothing and accessories, stay off the tanning beds, and see a doctor yearly for a head-to-toe skin check for any abnormal lesions or moles. Also, after sun exposure, even after all the applications of sunscreen, moisturize your skin with a good cream or lotion that will help retain your skin’s elasticity.
Peace and joy until next we meet. Deanna