The Sun

The sun, it makes us feel warm, it makes us feel happy, it stimulates our bodies to produce the essential nutrient Vitamin D to help keep our bones, teeth, and muscles healthy. It reminds us of long summer nights, ice cream, the beach and that golden summer tan.

Most New Zealanders love the sun, however that golden ball in the sky also has some pretty devastating effects on our health, predominantly the largest organ in our body- our skin!

The suns rays consist of 2 types- long wave UVA and short wave UVB, these rays penetrate the skin at different depths, UVA going the deepest into the dermal layer, and UVB to the epidermal layer. UVB is the most harmful, burning the superficial layers of the skin lead to premature skin aging (photo aging) and are responsible for the majority of skin cancer.

I am going to specifically focus on photo aging – as that is the industry I am in! Our skin ages over time through both intrinsic (internal) and extrinsic (external) factors. The suns harmful UVA/UVB rays are the main culprit for extrinsic damage to our skin, it causes a loss of youthfulness, fine lines, pigmentation, weakening of our elastin and collagen fibres resulting in loss of tone, structure and integrity of our skin. In fact, when you develop a suntan, this is actually a result of the skin’s protective processes whereby as a defence, you body produces melanin to prevent the suns rays from penetrating the skin!

When I am undertaking a full skin analysis, one of the first questions I ask is “ do you wear sunscreen? if so, is it zinc based and how often do you reapply?

There is a lot of confusion over what exactly is the right thing to do and use when it comes to sunscreen. So I hope this information can guide you to ensure you are doing the best for your skin with sun protection.

I advise my clients to apply sunscreen every morning, make it part of your daily routine, and find a sunscreen that suits your skin type, that preferably is a chemical sunscreen (absorbs the rays) plus has a zinc base (reflects the rays away from the skin) of a minimum of 18%. This is “broad spectrum” and the best cover you can get with two protecting mechanisms.

SPF rating is commonly misunderstood, and it is by no means the consumer’s fault, it comes down to how a lot of these products have been marketed.

SPF stands for sun protection factor; they are assigned a “factor rating” which is the ability of the sunscreen to deflect UVB rays away from the skin. This rating is calculated by looking at the time difference between how long sun protected skin vs. unprotected skin would take to burn.

An SPF 10 will give you 90% protection

An SPF 15 will give you 93% protection

An SPF 30 will give you 97% protection

An SPF 50 will give you 99% protection

SPF 30 means you can stay in the sun 30 times longer than you would when not wearing sunscreen without getting sunburnt.

Regardless of what SPF rating your sunscreen has, if you are actively outdoors for a prolonged period, swimming or exercising you will need to apply sunscreen every 2 hours, ensure you apply about 2 teaspoons to each part of your body. A zinc-based sunscreen starts to work against the suns rays immediately, but best to be organised and apply 20 minutes prior to sun exposure. Remember to always slip, slop, slap and wrap and that the highest burn times are between 10am and 4pm. Food for thought- most sunscreens have a 3-year expiry date on them- but if you are unsure, or it is expired, buy a new one!

A lot of my clients say they struggle to find a good facial sunscreen, well, gone are the days where zinc produced the “ghost face” that reflected in photos, that you couldn’t apply makeup over. There is a large range of what I like to call “ Luxury Sunscreens” that are a little on the expensive side, but have been formulated for the modern woman or man that wants protection without the look or feel of the traditional sunscreen. These make the daily use of sunscreen an absolute treat. My personal favourite are the PCA sunscreens- they have a fantastic range of tinted & un-tinted, broad spectrum (chemical & zinc based) sunscreens packed with antioxidants, and are cruelty free.

I cannot stress the importance of sun protection and how damaging it is to our skin, prevention is absolute key, so do your best, but seek comfort in the fact we are lucky we have access to a variety of other skin saving treatments to aid in the recovery of damaged skin. Please feel free to book a free consultation for a skin assessment!

Louise Highet