The long-awaited summer weather is well upon us. Whether you’re off to the park or about to jet off on holiday, protecting your skin from the sun should be a priority!

Last year, 72% of people in the UK admitted to being sunburnt the previous year. However, many don’t realise the damaging effect this can have on our skin.

Overexposure to the sun can slow down the production of collagen, causing skin to sag and wrinkles to form.

More importantly, overexposure to the sun can lead to various skin cancers such as melanoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

In this post we cover the steps you can take to keep your skin healthy and prevent sun-damage.

sunbathing Source: Unsplash

How Does Sun Damage Occur?



A suntan is often viewed as one of the many benefits of summer weather. But, how much do we really know about the damaging effects overexposure to sunlight has on our skin?

What most are unaware of, is that a suntan is caused by melanin, a polymer that causes skin to tan whilst fighting back against harmful UV rays.

When the amount of UV rays absorbed by our skin becomes overwhelming, melanin can no longer protect the skin and sunburn occurs.

As we know, sunburn results in inflamed skin that can be incredibly painful. Following this, dead skin cells begin to come away from the skin- otherwise known as peeling!

Sun Damage Source: Max Dupain

Harmful Effects of the Sun



We’re all aware that too much time spent in the sun can lead to sunburn. But, few realise the extent of this damage. And that’s not all, UV rays can lead to much further damage than sunburn. The negative effects of overexposure are as follows:

Slows Collagen Production

UVB rays damage elastin in the skin, slowing down the production of collagen. This causes skin to sag, wrinkle, and produce sunspots. These may not be noticeable for a few years, as 47% of sun damage occurs between the age of 19-40.

Nonetheless, it’s still important to protect yourself now.

Sunburn

As mentioned above, melanin-producing cells become overwhelmed by continued exposure to UVB rays. This results in your skin burning.

When this happens, the surrounding healthy cells begin a removal process which promotes inflammation.

Uneven Melanin Production

Repeated sun damage can affect the way your skin produces melanin. As you age, melanin can form in clumps, resulting in the appearance of freckles and age spots.

Skin Cancer

Repeated sun damage can trigger abnormal cell activity and growth that can result in melanoma or squamous cell cancer.

If targeted early, many of these symptoms can be reduced or eliminated altogether.

A lot of these negative effects from the sun will appear later in life, but that isn’t an excuse not to protect yourself. The only warning sign you need right now is sunburn.

sun protection Source: Filip Mishevski

Positive Effects of the Sun



However, that’s not to say you should avoid the sun completely. A certain level of sunlight can nourish the skin and boost our mood.

Spending 15-20 minutes a day in the sun will enable the skin to produce an adequate level of Vitamin D, which is used to break down calcium to strengthen bones.

Further benefits of moderate sun exposure:

Improves Our Mood

We all notice it, the sun comes out and so do the smiles. The reason for this is that sunlight stimulates glands in our brain to produce tryptamines that improve our mood.

Improves Quality of Sleep

Early morning sunlight helps to reset our biological clocks which are in tune with the earth’s daily rhythm. So when it’s dark your body knows it is time to go to sleep, and when there is light, your body knows it should wake up.

Helps to Treat Psoriasis

Phototherapy uses natural or artificial light to treat the skin condition psoriasis. By gradually exposing the affected skin to sunlight, you can dramatically increase its appearance.

Regulates Cortisol Levels

Cortisol is the hormone responsible for stress. Getting 30 minutes of sunlight as soon as you wake up can induce a healthy spike in cortisol levels that gradually diminish throughout the day.

sunny beach Source: Ed Gregory

How to Prevent the Effects of Overexposure



Now we know what the sun can do to our skin, it’s time to learn how to tackle the negative effects.

There are a number of ways to combat uneven skin tone, slow down the signs of ageing and prevent skin cancer.


Skincare


Taking care of your skin after too much time spent is the sun is the same as treating a wound when you’ve been cut.

Protecting the most sensitive areas should be a priority. Use a sunscreen with the minimum of SPF 15 before you go out in the sun. The SPF reduces the amount of harm that UVB rays can cause.

Sunscreens are thick and generally not meant for moisturising skin on a daily basis. Apply a moisturising cream with a combined SPF. This will help keep skin hydrated and protected from UVB rays.

In addition, cover up the most sensitive areas of the skin with protective clothing.

Stay out of the sun between 10am and 2pm. This is when the sun’s rays are most intense.


Diet


Foods containing antioxidants reduce inflammation and free radicals, offering additional protection from the sun. Many of these foods can be easily incorporated into your diet if they are not already present.

Vegetables such as carrots, sweet potatoes, red peppers and broccoli contain beta carotene, an antioxidant that has properties of sunscreen.

Other red fruits including tomatoes, watermelon, papaya and pink grapefruit contain lycopene, which contains a pigment that stops your skin from going red and neutralises free radicals.

Leafy greens such as kale and spinach reduce the risk of squamous cell cancer. They contain sulforaphane, an anti-cancer compound which fights against UV radiation.

Green tea has many health benefits including fighting acne, improving digestion and increasing metabolism. Studies have also indicated that it may reduce the risk of illnesses such as cancer.

These foods and many others also contain ingredients that combat the signs of ageing.

green tea Source: Paula Montañà Tor

Additional Tips



Sun damage treatments do not stop when summer ends. Even in winter, sand, snow and light cloud can reflect up to 80% of the sun’s rays back on to the skin.

High altitudes also increase the risk of UVB exposure as there is less atmosphere to absorb UV rays. With every 1000m of height climbed, UV exposure increases by 10%.

The effects of the sun can cause damage to your skin all year round. By taking healing and preventative measures, you can ensure that your skin stays healthier for longer.