Screen and block

Skin health and sun protection in the digital age

By Sarah delos Reyes, MD

Human skin is considered the largest organ in the body at 3.6 kg and 2 sqm, which makes great sense to take care of it. We have heard it all: know your skin type and use the products that are best suited for it. Sounds simple, right?

Care and challenges

Skin health has evolved so much in past decade, and has become so individualized that it goes beyond skin type and takes into consideration a person as a whole: genetics, biological age, gender, home and professional life, level and frequency of sun exposure, smoking and alcohol use, and nutrition.

A year ago, the 10-year challenge or the “how hard did aging hit you challenge” was embraced by most people because they were confident with their personhood and their current physical appearance. There’s no question that intellect, good morals and character, as well as a pleasing personality are important aspects of a human being. However, it can’t be denied that physical appearance, especially skin health, plays a great part in the quality of life of an individual.

Sun exposure and skin damage

Photoprotection is the most important aspect of skin health because ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure does not only come from the sun, it also includes artificial UV sources which are the major cause of skin cancer and premature skin aging. Moreover, studies have shown that most Asians age by pigmentations (dark spots) and not so much wrinkling of the skin.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sun exposure in snow, sand and water increases the need for sunscreen because these reflect the sun’s rays. Furthermore, even on cloudy days, up to 80% of the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate your skin.

When choosing your topical sunscreen, consider the level of protection (SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum, water resistant) and the preparation that you are comfortable with (eg, gel type or cream type). The sun protection factor (SPF) is the best-known sunscreen parameter. It shows the sunblock’s effectiveness in protecting against the UV radiation that causes sunburn. As much as you can, try a sunscreen for a few days to get a real feel of it because it will dictate your compliance to daily use of the product.

Physical sunscreens sit on your skin and acts like a barrier or shield to deflect UV rays and usually leaves a white residue because of the common active ingredients which are titanium dioxide and/or zinc dioxide. Since physical sunblocks are not absorbed much on the skin, it is best for those who are sensitive or allergy-prone.

Chemical sunscreens absorb UV rays; sort of acting like a sponge or a foam and usually doesn’t leave a white residue, and is easily rubbed into the skin because of the common ingredients: oxybenzone, avobenzone, octisalate, octocrylene, homosalate and octinoxate.

Proper sunblock application

While the UV blocking ability of SPF 30 is 97% and SPF 50 is 98%, the important thing to remember is to apply the correct amount–the rule of thumb is one teaspoon for the face and one shot glass for the whole body–about 15 to 20 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours. On the face, the skin surrounding the eye area–seen as crow’s feet and undereye wrinkles–is often missed and needs proper care, because the skin here is very thin and easily damaged.

It’s a well-established fact that antioxidants play a role in preventing skin damage linked with exposure to UV radiation and other artificial UV sources.

Other ways to protect the skin

A type of fern from Central and South America, Polypodium leucotomos (PL) (aka Phlebodium aureum), has been gaining popularity since 2006 as an adjunct or oral sunblock in photoprotection because of its ability to increase the removal of UV-induced photoproducts. Studies have shown that the photoprotective dose in healthy subjects is 7.5 mg/kg and it has no significant toxicity or allergenicity. Moreover, the benefit of PL in decreasing photoaging is because of the reduction in DNA damage and cell death.

Apart from using sunscreen, photoprotective measures include:

  • Wearing protective eyewear, hats or clothing;
  • Using an umbrella; and
  • Staying indoors between 10 am to 4 pm.

For a comprehensive and personalized photoprotection, it’s always best to seek the advice of a medical practitioner because skin health needs professional attention as early as possible. Correct and consistent photoprotection will not only ensure that you will not need to use filters on your posts and win social media challenges; it will create a habit to take care of something that will represent you for a long time — your skin. HT