Prevent sun damage, premature ageing and skin cancer with good sunscreen

Most people would agree that sunscreen is an essential part of our skincare routine. However, not everyone practises what they preach while others may be overwhelmed by the wide range of sunscreens and the many different labels, textures, ingredients and SPF values available.

Indeed, in all its varied forms, sunscreen has become a skincare staple, for good reason. Studies have shown that basking in the sun can lead to premature ageing and can even have life-threatening consequences. The culprits are the sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. The former are long rays that penetrate the skin deeply and contribute to ageing, while the latter are short rays that cause skin reddening and sunburn. Both can increase the risk of skin cancer.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, 65 per cent of melanoma (a type of skin cancer) and 90 per cent of non-melanoma skin cancer are caused by sun damage.

Each year, the American Cancer Society estimates that 8,100 Americans die of melanoma. In a report by the Singapore Cancer Registry tracking cancer trends from 2002-2006, skin cancer was the seventh most frequently occurring cancer in Singaporean men and the eighth for Singaporean women.

Sun worshippers should note that there’s no benefit to spending long periods unprotected in the sun. “Prolonged sun exposure causes photo-ageing, which is the main cause of skin reactions such as DNA mutation. Photo-ageing can result in changes in skin texture and blood vessels, and cause pigmentation and abnormal growths,” said Dr ​Pang Shiu Ming, Senior Consultant, Department of Dermatology, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth​ group.

What you should know about SPF

A sunscreen with a higher Sun Protection Factor (SPF) value does not necessarily translate to better sun protection. SPF only represents protection against UVB rays and the numerical value simply indicates how long one can stay out in the sun without burning.

So if it takes 15 minutes for the skin to start burning, SPF 15 sunscreen will allow one to bask in the sun for 15 times longer without burning. Also, sun protection does not increase proportionally with SPF. ​“An SPF of 15 indicates 93 per cent protection whereas an SPF of 34 indicates 97 per cent.

In the higher ranges of SPFs, the difference is less meaningful. A sunscreen with SPF 60 only provides about 2 per cent more protection than one with SPF 30,” said Dr Pang, adding that sunscreens with SPF 15 will suffice for people working indoors.

Ref: V10