Nerissa Govender
3 minute read
18 Jan 2008

Know your skin type

Nerissa Govender

Sun safety: Affects people of all skin tones

Mention global warming at a dinner party or group conversation these days and it’s guaranteed that your discussion will be a heated one, no pun intended.

This is a highly sensitive issue mainly because everyone knows it’s so important, but what does it really mean for us on an individual level? And how is each of us affected, especially when it comes to spending time in the sun?”

Although people are more aware of the dangers of the sun, most people do not really know the difference between UVA and UVB rays. There are also a number of misconceptions when it comes to skin care, such as the idea that people with darker skin tones don’t need to wear sunscreen.

UVB rays are the ones that are felt immediately, the ones that make your skin go red and in severe cases blister when staying in the sun for too long, especially when unprotected.

The UVA rays, however, are the less obvious but much more lethal ones; these are the rays that cause premature ageing and skin cancer.

Therefore, it is essential to ensure that your sunscreen has both UVA and UVB protection for all skin types.

Research has shown that the darker the skin tone, the higher the resistance to UVA and UVB rays.

This is clearly indicated (although not as a general rule — there are exceptions) through human evolution and how people indigenous to regions with more tropical climates and higher sun exposure have darker skin tones with thicker, more densely pigmented skins when compared to those who live in colder areas.

In countries such as South Africa, which have an equal summer and winter temperature split, as well as such a diverse racial composition there is no such thing as a blanket rule when it comes to skin care in summer.

It is essential, therefore, to know your skin type and how best to care for it when spending time outdoors over the summer period.

There are four different skin colour categories that are used when referring to the sun index. These are: white skin that burns easily and tends not to tan; white skin that tans easily; brown skin, and black skin.

For those people who are unsure which category they fit in, or feel that they are between two categories, it is best to always opt for the paler and safer option i.e. lower category number, no matter how much we like to think of ourselves as bronzed beach goddesses. Rather over-protect your skin than leave it open to the sun’s harmful rays.

One then also needs to consider the UV index which is determined by the position of the sun and the amount of cloud cover in the sky. When the sun is at its highest, i.e. midday, the UV rays are at their strongest and most dangerous. Cloud cover also plays a large role, with dense thick cloud protecting us from a certain proportion of UV rays and, bizarrely, some thin cloud cover acting as a UV magnifier. When planning to spend a day in the sun, it is essential to check the UV index beforehand and not just the weather forecast.

Sunbeds: raise skin cancer risk in young skinUsing a solarium to gain a suntan increases the risk of developing skin cancer by 98% if you are under the age of 35, with one visit heightening the chance of developing a melanoma by 22%, said an Australian study.

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, with one in every two people developing some form of skin cancer. About 1 600 Australians die each year from skin cancer.

A decades-long sun safety campaign, encouraging Australians to wear hats and sunblock lotions, is now losing its effectiveness with younger Australians.

The solarium tanning industry has rapidly expanded in recent years.

“Solariums emit stronger UVB rays, stronger than the outdoor sun… It’s very dangerous, it’s very high levels of radiation that we shouldn’t be exposed to,” said scientist Dr Louisa Gordon.

The Cancer Council of Australia says a “safe tan” is a myth, as tanning damages the skin. — Reuters.