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Caring for your skin during a South African summer

Tanning outside or indoors can have dangerous consequences. Tanning damages your skin cells, speeds up skin aging and can lead to skin cancer. Every time you tan, you also damage the DNA in your skin. The more you damage your DNA, the greater your risk of getting skin cancer.

Wrinkles, age spots, and loss of skin firmness tend to appear years earlier in people who tan. Anyone who tans can also develop leathery skin, which people who never tan do not get.

How to protect your skin in the sun

Everyone should use sunscreen, even though melanin offers some natural protection against UVB radiation. Dark skin is said to have a natural SPF of 13.4, whereas light skin is said to have a natural SPF of only 3.4. This means people with darker skin tones have a natural SPF of 13 — but when it comes to the sun’s damaging effects, the power of melanin is hugely overstated.

How different types of skin react to sun

While darker-skinned individuals can stay safely in the sun for longer than lighter-skinned individuals, sunburn is not out of the question.

Sometimes a sunburn on dark skin does not appear red, but rather tight, painful, or hot to the touch. When dark skin is exposed to too much sunlight, these individuals can suffer from hyperpigmentation.

Regardless of skin tone, everyone should wear a sunscreen because anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of age, gender, or race.

Wear protective clothes, wear a large brim heat, and stay under a shade.

What to look for in a sunscreen

UVA rays are responsible for premature aging. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and indicates how effectively a sunscreen protects against harmful UVB rays.

There are two broad categories of sunscreen. The first is physical, which contains titanium dioxide and zinc oxide minerals. Zinc oxide and titanium, blocks, and scatters UV rays before they penetrate your skin. This is the type that dark skins tend to avoid because it often leaves a white residue.

The second category is chemical. The active ingredients in many chemical sunscreens, including oxybenzone and octisalate, absorb UV rays before they damage your skin.

Ensure that you apply a broad-spectrum (protects against VA, UVB, infrared and visible light) sunscreen, with an SPF of at least 30 to protect your skin from UV rays.

Look for sunscreens that are biodegradable, which are eco-friendly and break down naturally in the environment.

Find a sunscreen that is easy to apply and is easily
absorbed by the skin.

Sun burns usually heal on their own without treatment from a doctor. However, if your sun burn covers a large part of your body, if the victim is an infant or elderly person, or if you think your burn is more severe, go to an emergency room immediately.

Research shows it only takes one blistering sunburn during childhood or adolescence to nearly double a person’s risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, later in life.

        Treating sunburn, and when to get professional help

        1. Take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturiser to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness.
        2. Use a moisturiser that contains aloe vera or soy to help soothe sunburned skin. If a particular area feels especially uncomfortable, you may want to apply a hydrocortisone cream that you can buy without a prescription. Do not treat sunburn with “-caine” products (such as benzocaine), as these may irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.
        3. Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to help reduce any swelling, redness, and discomfort.
        4. Drink extra water. A sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. Drinking extra water when you are sunburned helps prevent dehydration.
        5. If your skin blisters, allow the blisters to heal. Blistering skin means you have a second-degree sunburn. You should not pop the blisters, as blisters form to help your skin heal and protect you from infection.
        6. Take extra care to protect sunburned skin while it heals. Wear clothing that covers your skin when outdoors. Tightly woven fabrics work best. When you hold the fabric up to a bright light, you should not see any light coming through.

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