Sunlight – Good or bad? Here is the answer to a burning issue

Will there always be sunshine and daisies? No, sometimes it is cloudy outside, but you still need to wear sunscreen. Mopani Pharmacy talked to Dr Claudia Ngobeni, a local dermatologist. Her sunny disposition did not disappoint, as she shared her knowledge on sunlight: The good, the bad and the ugly. Here is what you need to know.

What benefits do we gain from sunlight?

“Sunlight plays a vital role in the body’s ability to produce Vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for bone health, strengthening the immune system and fighting depression. It also helps your brain to release serotonin, your body’s natural feel-good hormone”, Dr Claudia explained.

How much time should someone with fair, medium, dark skin spend in the sunlight each day to get these benefits?

”If we look at the Fitzpatrick Scale of skin-types, I’d say type one and two are fair, three and four are medium, and five and six are dark. Fair skin-types should get no more than 10 to 15 minutes of direct exposure between 10h00 and 15h00. Medium skin types should have no more than 20 to 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight. Darker skins have a natural SPF of 13-17 built in, so they can get up to 60 minutes of exposure”, she explained

“If you are going to be in the sun for any longer than that, you have to wear sun-protection. Otherwise you will to see and feel the consequences of a burn.”

How do the pros and cons of sun exposure compare?

“Sunlight exposure is linked to skin cancer, aging and skin discolouration (hyper-pigmentation). If you want to age well, rather limit the sun exposure and take a vitamin D supplement.”

How does sunlight cause skin cancer?

“Over-exposure to the sun leads to DNA damage of the skin cells. This causes the cells to mutate and multiply, and so it becomes skin cancer.”

What type of sun protection products would you recommend to someone with problem skin that break out from traditional sun lotions and sprays?

“If you are prone to acne, you can make use of gel, fluid and dry touch sun screen. This will penetrate into the skin without clogging up your pores and caking oils onto your skin”, she explained.

“If you have sensitive skin conditions such as eczema, I would recommend alcohol free lotions and creams with less preservatives and parabens, also known as synthetic compounds”, she continued.

“For dry skin, a cream will do fine. If you react to sunscreen, I recommend a wide brim hat, protective clothing and something called polypodium leucotomos extract, with a vitamin C serum. Polypodium leucotomos can be used as a tablet or in creams, depending on which product you can find.”

Can you reverse the effects of sunlight on your skin in terms of discolorations and freckles?

“There are many treatments, but your skin will never be the same. If you have something removed, you may scar, or be left with a lighter spot in its place. It’s trading one for the other. Some spots can’t be removed, and some people suffer from keloid scarring. This means that even if we can remove something, they will have a scar that is raised and puffy, leaving a bump in the skin. I cannot emphasise enough, that prevention is better than cure.”

What is the difference between UVA and UVB, and do the sun lotions and sprays protect us against both?

“UVA penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB rays. UVA is responsible for hyperpigmentation, premature aging and skin cancer. Up to 95% of the sun rays that reach the earth is UVA.”

“UVB penetration wavelengths are shorter, and only burns the top layers of the skin. UVB causes skin cancers such as the squamous cell carcinoma, basal cell carcinoma and melanoma. Carcinomas resemble a scab-like sore that does not heal. Melanomas are coloured spots on the skin that resemble a flat mole, slightly raised from the rest of your skin”, she explained.

“The majority of sunscreens are now broad spectrum. This means that they will cover you for both UVA and UVB. If you are unsure, ask your dermatologist or your pharmacist about your favourite brands, and if they have a recommendation.”

Is there really a big difference between SPF 30 and SPF 50?

“There is no simple answer to this. SPF 30 allows for roughly 3% of UVB rays to penetrate the skin, SPF 50 allows 2%. That is only a 1% difference. But that 1% could be the difference between skin cancer or no skin cancer”, Dr Claudia explained.

“I would not advise anyone to use an SPF lower than 30. Cosmetic products often have an SPF of 15, but to me, it is as good as not applying sunscreen.”

“Also note that skincare companies have now been encouraged to rather say SPF 50+ than say SPF100. The reason for this is that it misleads people to think they have 100% protection. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as 100% protection in a sunscreen”, she concluded.

How regularly should you reapply the sun protection – and does the amount of SPF have an influence on this time?

“The SPF makes no difference in its durability.  Sunscreen starts to break down chemically after about two hours on your skin. Some doctors actually recommend that patients use SPF 30 instead of SPF 50. This is because in the patients using SPF 30 are more likely to re-apply than those using SPF 50!”

Rule of thumb:

  • Re-apply every two hours
  • Re-apply after swimming or sweating
  • Use as much protective clothing as possible, to cover where the sunscreen may not
  • Use a broad spectrum SPF, as high as possible
  • Avoid sun exposure between 10:00-15:00
  • Remember that lights emit UV as well, so you will need to apply, even when you are in the office all day

How much sunscreen should you apply?

“As much as possible!”

But for a better guide, use the following measurements;

  • Face, ears and neck = 1 teaspoon for the entire area
  • Torso = 1 teaspoon per side
  • Arms = 1 teaspoon per arm (include back of hands)
  • Legs and feet = 2 teaspoons per side.

If I have a mole or skin-discolouration, how do I know if I should see a doctor?

“If you are worried about any new spot that popped up, go, for your own peace of mind. But in general, whenever you do see your doctor, feel free to ask him to check your moles and skin discolouration spots, to see if he can identify any of them that need to go. For the most part, they are harmless. If they are itchy, flaky, bleed sometimes or feels like a sore that won’t heal, consult your doctor”, she said.

Can I decide to have all of my moles removed as a precaution?

“If you have unlimited funds, sure! It will be seen as a cosmetic surgery, and remember, they will be cut from your skin. This opens the door for scars or keloids to pop up.”

“That cute mole on your neck? Nothing to write home about. Most people won’t notice it, or look right past it. Now, if we remove it and you are prone to keloid scaring, you will have a weird looking white bump on your neck. Where did eye contact go? Straight to the keloid”, she explained.

“So, I recommend you have an extensive consultation and weigh the pros and cons if you are considering something like that. If you don’t have a strong familial history of skin cancer, you might not want to trade every insignificant little mole for a mysterious scar. However, if a doctor tells you to remove something, you best remove it!”, she concluded.

To remember

If you want to visit Dr Ngobeni, you can find her at Mlondolozi Medical Centre, 6 Ehmke Street, Nelspruit. Book your appointment at: 013 753 2770.

If you need a specific sunscreen, supplement or serum, ask our friendly staff at Mopani for assistance in choosing the correct product for your skin and your family’s needs.

Here are some broad-spectrum sunscreens according to need

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CancerDr claudia ngobeniElbi dippenaarExposureSkin cancerSunlight