With the summer months approaching and the extended hours of daylight (and hopefully sunshine) we will all be spending more time outdoors.
Really good news because sunlight helps
- our emotional well-being as it boosts the chemical serotonin in our brains, which affects our mood
- to produce much needed Vit D ( essential nutrient that’s important for bones, blood cells and immune system),
- to regulate our internal clock and helps with better sleep
But it is important to be safe when in the sun. A lot of people of South-Asian heritage think they don’t need to take any precautions when out in the sun. South Asians can develop all of the consequences of excessive sun exposure – sun burn, skin cancer, hyperpigmentation, UV ageing.
Here’s some skin science
The top layer of skin is called the epidermis.
It’s made up of lots of layers of cells. Its function is as a barrier to infection and to regulate water loss from our body.
The pigment making cells, called melanocytes , are located at the bottom of this layer.
These produce the pigment called melanin which travels to the surface of the epidermis and causes the skin to become a certain colour.
All humans have the same number of melanocytes, regardless of our ethnicity. But in genetically darker skinned individuals, these pigment making cells are more active than those in lighter skinned people.
Melanocytes release a background amount of melanin that gives us our skin colour -pale skin produces little to no melanin while South Asian skin produces a lighter melanin—phaeomelanin—and black skin produces the darkest and thickest melanin: eumelanin.
What does melanin do?
Melanin production is triggered by the sunlight as the skin attempts to protect itself from the harmful UV rays and this ‘protector’ for our skin is able to absorb UV rays, and therefore, acts like natural sunscreen . It also is able to protect our skin against harmful factors in the air and on the skin to a certain extent. So as South Asians we are lucky that we have this natural protection.
How can the sun harm our skin?
UVB rays generally damage the surface of the skin and cause burns (UVb for burns). Burns can lead to patches of uneven pigmentation and in worst case scenarios- scarring. South Asian skin has a tendency to develop uneven patches of pigmentation and scars more easily than lighter skin types.
When the harmful rays reach the DNA of cells this can trigger changes that lead to speeding up of the ageing process, resulting in signs of ageing such as wrinkles, leathery skin and sun spots. Hyperpigmentation is one of the biggest skin concerns that South Asians seek medical advice about and apart from hormones, UV exposure is the biggest trigger of patches of uneven skin tone.
Sun doesn’t just cause ageing and burns but can have potentially life changing effects
If the DNA is damaged significantly this can lead to the worst effect and cells can change to form skin cancer. Skin cancers are less common in non-white racial ethnic groups, but when they occur, they tend to be diagnosed at a later stage and, as a result, have a worse prognosis.
How should we protect our skin?
Multiple studies show that South Asians use sunscreen much less frequently than others – maybe we don’t feel ‘at risk ?’. This could be because we aren’t ‘sunseekers’ culturally, so don’t feel the need to apply and get a false sense of protection because we don’t burn or tan as easily. There is a general lack of awareness of the damage the sun can cause even if we are indoors amongst all ethnicities.
Best ways to protect the skin
Avoid direct sun exposure in peak hours when the sun is at its hottest (11 am to 3pm)
Important to get into the habit of using sunscreen even in winter – because the harmful UVA rays can travel through windows.
Wear an SPF of at least factor 30 – check out our website for more info on how to choose the correct SPF
Wear a hat and sunglasses when out
Get into the habit of incorporating SPF into your daily skincare routine
Seek medical advice if you have any worrying skin lesions – a lesion that is not healing, bleeding, itchy, rapidly growing or changing colour. Your GP is the best person to see if you have any concerns about a skin lesion.
Remember prevention is always better than cure – SPF can help prevent signs of ageing, new pigmentation and reduce chances of skin cancer developing. Stay safe and enjoy the British summer.