Two weeks ago was the first week of this year with warm temperatures and sunshine here. As a very normal human being I was ecstatic about this sudden change. Not that I didn’t enjoy the refreshing April snow we had a little over two weeks ago – don’t get me wrong I love me some snow.
It’s like vegan gluten-free ice cream – it looks good, is cold and tastes like nothing.
Ok, I haven’t eaten vegan and gluten-free ice cream, but I have eaten snow many times when I was a child. And every year after that.
What I’ve also done a lot as a child is run around under the hot burning sun during summer wearing no sunscreen. And last week I did it again – Britney style. And then I remembered that this is not good at all. It’s not good for my health and it’s definitely not good for my appearance. I’m now 31 and I’m not ready to look like an old leather bag just yet.
On top I have a sun allergy, which comes every single summer, because I don’t see sun for about 8 months. Summer comes and all of a sudden my immune system is in a bigger shock than the hosts of a pretentious dinner party when one of their guests uses a fish fork to eat salad.
Yes, sunshine makes my immune system react very strongly, attacking something that is not dangerous. The result of that is: me in pain and looking like a freak. I won’t show any pics of the allergy, because I have some self-respect plus I don’t want everyone to cover their screens with vomit.
But as bad as it is, sun allergy is not the worst thing sunlight can do to your skin these days.
Sunshine is a source of UVB and UVA rays and both kinds affect the skin:
- UV-light weakens immune function in the skin by decreasing the number and the efficiency of Langerhans cells (main type of immune cells in the skin)
- UV-light increases the number of free radicals in the skin: accumulation of free radicals causes oxidative stress, which is the main reason for aging and results in DNA, lipids and proteins damage
- all of the damaging effects of UVA and UVB rays can lead to skin cancer.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN UVA AND UVB?
UVA and UVB rays differ in the way they affect skin:
- UVB rays affect the outermost layer of the skin called epidermis
- UVA rays go deeper than that – they affect the epidermis and the underlying dermis.
Even though UVA rays penetrate the skin more deeply and are 10 times more common than UVB rays, UVB rays are about 1000 times more dangerous than UVA rays. Yet both kinds are damaging to skin structures and even more so with the reduction of the ozone layer in the atmosphere.
WHY IS SUNLIGHT BAD FOR THE WAY YOU LOOK?
As I mentioned, UV light causes an accumulation of free radicals in the skin known as oxidative stress. This oxidative stress is the main reason for the formation of wrinkles and age spots and for the loss of elasticity in the skin.
When it comes to skin aging excess UV light is by far the most harmful thing you can to do to your skin. It’s responsible for about 80% of skin aging.
That is huge compared to the other lifestyle factors like diet, smoking and alcohol, that make the other 20%.
This means that even if you eat only kale for the rest of your life and breathe in organic air, your skin will still look old if you spend too much time burning in the sun.
Here are 5 reasons why the sun causes wrinkles, skin aging and hair damage:
UV LIGHT DEGRADES COLLAGEN
Collagen is the main protein in the skin and is responsible for its stability and elasticity. As such it is the protein that makes the skin look smooth, firm and young. Just as it happens, too much UV light degrades collagen and it causes the accumulation of weird structures in the skin that contain elastin. Now elastin doesn’t sound that bad, because its name suggest that this protein will make the skin elastic, doesn’t it? But it doesn’t – instead it makes it saggy and leathery like an old worn-out bag.
UV LIGHT DESTROYS THE SKIN BARRIER FUNCTION
UV light also messes up the barrier function of the skin. Barrier function of the skin is responsible for the maintenance of hydration – thus UV light dehydrates the skin and makes it rough and dry.
UV LIGHT SLOWS DOWN THE GROWTH OF NEW SKIN CELLS
UV rays increase the activity of certain enzymes in the skin responsible for tissue destruction. On top UV rays slow down the growth of new skin cells, thus old skin cells cannot be replaced as quickly as they should be. Both of these things result in guess what? Yes, you got it – wrinkles, leathery and dull skin.
UV LIGHT DEGRADES HAIR KERATINS
The skin is not the only victim of UV rays. The hair! That poor beautiful thing gets tortured by the sunlight more than a fat kid in front of a closed candy shop.
Much like in the skin sunlight also degrades proteins in the hair.
UVB rays specifically, degrade hair keratins. Those are the main structural proteins in the hair. This makes the hair brittle, dull and dry.
UV LIGHT MAKES YOUR HAIR GREY
While UVB rays destroy keratin and cause skin cancer, UVA rays are not just shining there doing nothing. They do their own damage by causing skin aging.
UVA rays also reduce the amount of melanin – a pigment not only is responsible for the tan of the skin but also for the color of the hair. If you don’t have melanin, you have grey hair (Welcome to my world!).
WHEN IS SUNLIGHT BENEFICIAL?
We all need a little bit of sunshine to create Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays many roles in the body and is essential for health. In fact as I said in 10 habits to boost your immune system most people are vitamin D deficient.
A little bit of sun exposure daily is healthy and will not hurt you. Like with everything in life it’s better to do less and more often, than a lot of it only once. Or a lot of one thing all the time.
In fact when we get out more regularly in the sun we develop a better protection against it and can tolerate somewhat longer periods of exposure.
When we stay in the sun skin cells called melanocytes produce high amounts of a protective pigment called melanin.
We can see this pigmentation and we call it: TAN. So tan is there to protect us from sun damage.
This does not mean you should stay longer in the sun, even if you think you’re able to tolerate it!
Already 10 min of sunlight are enough to produce vitamin D if that’s done regularly.
The sad thing is that nowadays you can’t expect that tan is not enough to protect us from damage.
WHAT CAN WE DO?
If you insist on staying in the sun better apply sunscreen. Unfortunately less than 40% of people actually apply sunscreen.
I personally am guilty of that and therefore I’ve had quite a few sunburns. The problem with sunscreen for me is that I don’t think I can rely on it. Besides it prevents the production of vitamin D.
These days I simply prefer to stay in the sun for shorter periods of time and during the hours when the sun is not that strong. If you have to be under the sun for longer periods of time, it’s important to apply sunscreen generously and more often.
- REDUCE TIME IN THE SUN
It’s never fun to stay at home when everyone else is playing outside. However try to avoid the sun during the hottest hours between 10 am and 4 pm. This is the best way you can protect your skin from sun damage and keep it healthy and youthful.
LOOK FOR SHADOWS
If you don’t want to get super antisocial and only stay at home during summer, you can try seeking a place in the shadows. Not only is it more pleasant there, it’s also safer for your skin and for your cardiovascular system.
Dress appropriately! Now I don’t mean a bikini. I mean a hat and maybe long-sleeve clothes. Who doesn’t enjoy wearing a long-sleeve fuzzy sweater during the hottest days of summer? Okay, maybe most people will not do that, but anybody can wear a hat. With a hat at least the most exposed part of your body, the face, will be covered properly.
EAT YOUR ANTIOXIDANTS
This is another thing that is crucial during summer and very often ignored: Eating your antioxidants. We eat ice cream, drink soda, ice latte, ice I don’t know what – just cold things with no nutrients.
Yet the best things to eat are like in any season: fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, seeds and nuts. Why? Because all of these foods are rich in antioxidants. UV light keeps bombarding us with free radicals, so we need everything we can get to balance those suckers out. Antioxidants can neutralize free radicals and plant foods are rich sources of antioxidants. That is a reason why so many antioxidant-rich foods grow during summer: we need them! I am not saying the world revolves around us, but nature probably
Some fruits and veggies even work as sunscreen for your whole body! Isn’t that amazing? Certain fruits and vegetables contain pigments that protect us from sun damage. Of course you’d have to eat abnormal amounts of fruits and vegetables to protect yourself efficiently from sun damage with food alone. Combine all of the above tips and you should be good.
Now we all know, you should not mess around with sunlight. The next time I call somebody sunshine, it will probably be my worst enemy.
Graphics made with the emojis from EmojiOne.