Wednesday, May 7, 2008

DON'T burn baby burn

Monday 5th May saw the start of Sun Awareness Week, here in the UK.  Timely 'planning', given the beautiful sunshine we've been treated to over the past few days.  Everywhere I've been, on my wanderings lately, I've noticed bright red individuals who haven't been able to resist exposing their unprotected flesh and soaking-up the sun.  I never cease to be amazed at this shortsightedness...

I know it isn't always easy to take a long-term view, especially when we're young, but skin cancer is on the rise and it's one cancer that is highly preventable.  What really infuriates me is when I see toddlers and young children who have been allowed to turn bright red from sun exposure.  Of course, I don't blame them but their parents should know better.  There are such good and easy-to-apply sun-care products available today - even coloured ones with a high Sun Protection Factor(SPF) - where an element of fun and play can be involved in their application.

I used to be a health and beauty editor, so yes, I do have an especially high awareness and I've heard many stories (true ones) from dermatologists who relate tragic cases of people in their 20s and 30s who have died, very sadly and prematurely, from malignant melanoma.  A dose of sunburn, as a young child, will literally programme your skin with sun damage, impacting most up to 20-30 years on, accounting for the shocking death rate in young people.  

Today, it's completely unnecessary to expose your skin to the sun in order to get an attractive golden tan.  Self-tan products are improving all the time, with a huge range and variety available.  When you choose - and use - one, you simply need to be aware that it won't offer protection against the rays, UNLESS the pack specifically states that it contains a good SPF.   So, if your product of choice doesn't state that, you'll need to apply an additional product with a good, full-spectrum (against UVA and UVB) SPF, often indicated with a star rating. Also, bear in mind that it's worth exfoliating your skin, prior to application, to ensure there's a smooth, hydrated surface for the 'tan' to take evenly and look optimally good.  Don't forget to wash your hands instantly afterwards to avoid any tell-tale signs with unsightly (and unrealistic!) brown palms.

One of the riskiest things you can do to your skin is to give it a 'short sharp shock' and expose it to an intense bout of  sunbathing - for instance on a two-week holiday in an 'idyllic' tropical, Mediterranean or exotic sun-baked setting.  Watch-out for water locations, either when swimming or on a boat, as this will only intensify the sun's damaging impact.  A deceptively refreshing breeze - on a hot sunny day - is another culprit with similar effects.

An additional (quirky-sounding) way you can improve your skin's natural protection is to include a decent portion of tomato purée in your diet, on a daily basis.  Recent research has shown that after a few months daily intake the skin's resistance to sun-damage is enhanced. It offers benefits but still won't prevent the need for topical protection.

Enjoy the sun, in moderation, ensuring that you are in control, rather than allowing the rays to dictate the future, potentially-sorry state of your skin. If the fear of serious damage and putting your health at risk isn't sufficient to make you take preventative action, then perhaps the threat of premature ageing will.

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