I have pigments on both sides of my face, thanks to spending a decade of my younger years studying in Australia. But my right cheek has a pesky brown spot, the size of a 5 cent coin in Singapore.
It bothers me.
How did I get it? I am almost positive that it all started during one hot summer afternoon when I was stuck in a 3 hour traffic jam travelling from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. After I got out of my car, my right cheek was sunburnt. To be honest, I never really noticed my pigments until they got really obvious. I headed out to the beach during study breaks and lay on the soft white sand, trying to get that stupid sun-kissed tan. I even tried the tanning booth at the gym several times.
The burnt spot would go on and turn into a nasty pigment many years later and I am spending good money on skincare products and visits to my doctor’s clinic to make sure it doesn’t grow darker and out of hand. I use my hand and cover my right cheek when I walk under the sun between 2 blocks. Sun avoidance and sun protection, my doctor says.
Sun Damage Also Ages You Prematurely
Apart from nasty pigmentation troubles, sun damage does irreversible damage to the skin. It’s called “dermatoheliosis”, or photo-aging, where sun damage causes characteristic changes to the skin. Chronic exposure to harmful sunrays result in thickening of the topmost layers of the skin and destruction of elastic fibers. This translates to premature formation of sagging skin and… wrinkles!
Severe Sun Damage – An Accidental Experiment
Perhaps the most compelling argument for believing me about the detriments of sun exposure and taking most doctors’ advice on wearing sunscreen, all day, and lots and lots of it, is this.
Billy McElligott is 69 at the time of this photo, and has been a truck driver for the last 20 years. He has severe photoaging on the left side of his face (left sided driving in his part of the world). Basically UVA rays transmitted through the window has severely damaged the left side of his face in his 20 years of driving. The difference between both sides of his face is so pronounced, it was reported in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2012, to warn people of the severity of sun damage.
It Can Be Worse Than Just Wrinkles
Chronic severe sun damage can cause skin cancers.
Here’s some shocking statistics. In Australia, approximately 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70, approximately 2000 Australians die from skin cancer every year. In the United States, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer. 1 person dies of melanoma every 54 minutes, and approximately 87,000 new cases of invasive melanoma were diagnosed in 2017.
How To Protect Yourself From The Sun
Rule Number 1. Wear a good sunscreen. Everyday. All day.
Choosing a sunscreen isn’t as simple as you think, there is a plethora of sunscreen out there. Basically there are 2 main types of sunscreen out there. One works by scattering light and reflecting it away from your skin, others absorb the UV rays before they reach your skin.
People mostly look for a high sun protection factor (SPF), which only rates how well the sunscreen protects against UVB rays. UVA rays also cause skin cancers and wrinkles, even though they do not cause sunburn. Doctors usually their patients to look for broad-spectrum sunscreens.
What To Look For In A Sunscreen
- SPF 30 or more for UVB protection
- Look for at least one of these ingredients for UVA protection
- oxybenzone, avobenzone, ecamsule, sulisobenzone, zinc oxide, or titanium dioxide
- Water or sweat resistance, if you are going to go into the water or exercise
- PABA (para-aminobenzoic acid) may irritate sensitive skin, so avoid sunscreens with this for children or those with skin allergies
Limit Sun Exposure
Limit your time outdoors when the sun is the strongest, and consider wearing wide brimmed hats (not caps) during time under the sun.
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