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How should we protect ourselves against sun exposure?

Eva María went looking for the sun on the beach. We know, from the song, that with her leather suitcase and her striped bikini, but what about the sunscreen? In recent decades, awareness among the population of the harmful effects of incorrect sun exposure is greater, although there is still a long way to go.

Eduardo López Bran, head of the Dermatology service of the San Carlos Clinical Hospital and professor at the Faculty of Medicine of the Complutense University of Madrid, explains two great reasons to protect ourselves, in addition to solving the question that many of us ask ourselves: what does it mean? that one cream has a factor of 50 and another a 20?

Why is it so important to protect ourselves from the sun?

In the first place, to avoid photoaging, that is, aging added to genetically programmed aging that is accelerated by an excess of solar radiation without adequate protection, manifesting itself on the skin with spots, wrinkles or less healthy coloration.

Second, and perhaps the most important factor, is that a lack of protection leads to sunburns that produce actinic damage that, in addition to being cumulative, produces alterations in cellular DNA that can lead to the future development of skin cancer.

Does the skin have memory, as they say?

Indeed, the sun damage or actinic damage caused by unprotected sunlight remains in our cells from our childhood. Hence the importance of protection from the beginning of life. The skin accumulates the damage and does not regenerate, it adds up and can end with manifestations like the ones we have discussed.

The importance of protection during the first years of life is tremendous, because it depends not on the individual himself, but on the people who care for him.

Not all people respond the same to sun exposure. What are the so-called phototypes?

Phototypes are the response of individuals to sunlight depending on the type and color of their skin, hair color and eyes. They indicate the natural defense capacity of the skin against radiation and, therefore, the greater or lesser chances of getting burned.

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There are six categories, ranging from phototype 1 to phototype 6. The first is made up of people who do not have the ability to generate pigment or synthesize melanin, with very light eyes and hair that do not tan and always burn.

In the middle would be the Nordic countries with phototype 2, with light eyes, hair and skin; the Central European countries with phototype 3 with brown hair and eyes and skin no longer so light, the usual phototype 4 in Mediterranean countries with brown hair and skin that tans more easily; the phototype 5 people with natural brown skin. And in the last one, phototype 6, are black-skinned people who have a very high natural protection against solar radiation.

They all need sun protection. Including phototype 6. What happens is that, logically, the time it takes for phototypes 5 and 6 to burn is longer than the others. Everyone needs protection.

What does the numerical value of the sun protection factor (50, 30, 15…) of the creams we purchase mean?

This has always been a problem and the different scales have generated confusion among the population. What the protection factor indicates is the increase in time you can be in the sun without burning yourself. If your skin, exposed to the sun, would burn in 10 minutes, with sun protection factor 20 it would take 20 times longer to burn, that is, 200 minutes.

After a first application of the cream, is it necessary to repeat it throughout the sun exposure?

The cream should be reapplied when there is excessive sweating that can eliminate it or after bathing in the water. It is also convenient to reapply it every three or four hours, because the protection is decreasing.

The important thing is to apply a sufficient amount of cream evenly over the entire body surface before exposure to light.

Other important tips are to avoid the central hours of the day and the use, in addition to chemical protection, of physical protection such as caps or glasses.

Would you recommend using different protection factors for different areas, for example for the face?

I would not establish rules to apply different protection factors for anatomical areas. More than different protection factors, I am more concerned with its cosmetics, its texture and its presentation.

The face is a delicate area that, depending on the cosmetic of the sunscreen that we use, can favor the development of acne lesions, especially in predisposed people. There are many types of sunscreen: gel, milk, cream, spray. The latter, in my opinion, is the least comfortable for the face and yet makes it easier to apply on the body.

On the other hand, there are photo-exposed areas that receive solar radiation all year round and already have protection: the hands, the face, the décolleté.

Do you see an increase in awareness of the importance of sun protection in recent years?

Undoubtedly. The strong social and health education campaign carried out by scientific organizations and the media has made a dent in the population and it is becoming more and more aware every day.

There is still much to do, we continue to see people in the central hours of the day lying without adequate protection, but a long way has been traveled and we have seen the awareness of the population improve.

Originally published by the Office for the Transfer of Research Results (OTRI) of the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM).

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original.

The signatories are not salaried, or consultants, nor do they own shares, nor do they receive financing from any company or organization that can obtain benefit from this article, and they have declared that they lack relevant links beyond the academic position mentioned above.

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