How does your skin tan? Do sunscreens really work? And are solariums safe? French facialist Christine Clais explains everything we need to know about summer sun protection and how to achieve a healthy tan.
1. What are the effects of the sun on the skin?
While we need some sun to be healthy and feel good (the sun is our primary source of Vitamin D, and it is needed for our body’s calcium absorption so we have stronger bones), excessive sun exposure can have a serious negative impact on our skin. UV radiation from the sun is divided into three bands: UVC, UVA and UVB. Both UVA and UVB greatly contribute to photoageing (also referred to as premature ageing) and can cause skin cancers. UVB is responsible for our skin getting sunburnt because of excessive sun exposure.
2. How do sunscreens work?
There are many kinds of sunscreens on the market (lotions, creams, roll-ons,
sticks etc…) so choosing one can be confusing. Sunscreens work in 2 ways:
1. by reflecting light like a mirror (this is the case with physical sunblocks such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide.
2. by absorbing rays – these chemical sunblocks contain ingredients such as octyl methoxycinnamate and salicylates.
3. What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a rating given to sunscreens to indicate their level of protection against UVB rays. For instance, if your skin usually begins to burn after 10 minutes spent in the sun, applying a sunscreen with Spf 15 will multiply by 15 the time before you start getting sunburnt, in this case extending the protection by up to 2.5 hours. But be aware that re-applying your sunscreen after 2.5 hours will not stop your skin from burning if you remain in the sun; you should then wait until the next day for more sun exposure. Please note that a sunscreen should be applied to clean and dry skin, at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun to be effective. For maximum defense, look for a broad spectrum -UVA and UVB protection (available at reputable pharmacies or beauty clinics).
And of course, it is best to avoid sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm when the sun’s rays are strongest, as well as wearing a hat and sunglasses for added protection.
4. How do we tan?
Tanning is a natural protective skin response to sunlight and mainly occurs thanks to the presence of skin cells called melanocytes. Situated in the basal layer of the epidermis, these cells produce an organic pigment call melanin (from the Greek word “melanos”, meaning black), which makes the skin look darker, giving us a sun tan.
5. How do fake tan work?
Fake tans work due to the action of tanning ingredients, the most commonly used being called dihydroxyacetone or DHA. Such compounds react with proteins in the skin to create a brown pigment. This artificially produced “tan” is more superficial than one achieved with sunlight and will disappear after a few days. My favourite fake tanning products are made by Eco Tan (available in two shades including one for very pale skins). This Australian brand is the only tanning company to be certified by Organic Food Chain under the strict Australian Government standards. These products contain no synthetic ingredients and the natural colour produced comes from cacao, so no more infamous orange tones!
6. Are solariums safe?
Solariums mainly use UVA. Because it can penetrate deep into the skin, UVA can create serious cellular damage and increases the chance of developing skin cancer. UVA is also known to damage the proteins present in our skin and as such, contribute to precipitating the visual signs of ageing. So, solariums are not safer than prolonged and unprotected exposure to natural sunlight.
What’s your favourite way to tan, or do you prefer to stay pale?