What you need to know about sunscreen now – plus six key tips from a dermatology expert …
While we’re all thinking about protecting ourselves from the virus, there’s another type of protection that we shouldn’t overlook. Having been inside so much, the natural reaction is to rush out into the sunshine as soon as it appears, and soak up as much as possible. But important new advice from the Irish Skin Foundation is giving us pause for thought.
There are approximately 12,000 skin cancers diagnosed in Ireland every year and, according to the Irish Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Ireland. Non-melanoma skin cancer (4,632 cases per year in women) is the most common in women. So it’s crucial to protect skin from both the burning UVB rays and deeper-reaching damaging UVA rays with sunblock – either chemical (which absorb the UV radiation) or mineral (zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide-based) which act like a mirror, shielding the skin by creating a physical barrier.
The best advice always comes from skin experts who have nothing to sell you. Professor Anne-Marie Tobin, consultant dermatologist at Tallaght Hospital and Clinical Senior Lecturer in Trinity College Dublin (TCD) is qualified in both pharmacy and medicine, and is on the board of the Irish Skin Foundation, a national charity that supports people with skin disorders. She is keen to raise awareness of a new update in sunscreen use: “We are recommending that people use a physical sunblock above their eyebrows, rather than a chemical one.” This is due to an increase in cases of a dramatic form of hair loss at the front of the scalp, called frontal fibrosing alopecia (FFA). “When I started, we would have maybe ten patients with this FFA, which sees the hairline recede right back. The condition has gone from rare to much more common – I now see five or six times the amount of patients. Treatments for it are imperfect, so it’s very hard to treat.” The belief is that it could be caused by a reaction between chemical sunblock and the hair follicles: “There is a unique immune system in the hair follicles that may not be able to deal with these chemicals.” I was also warned of this condition by trichologist Deborah Whelan in 2017, as she was also seeing a dramatic increase in cases with this hair-loss problem, citing a “significant enough link” to chemical sunscreens. So look for SPF creams that are zinc or titanium-based to use above your eyebrows, rather than those based on chemicals such as avobenzone and octocrylene. Some chemical filters are also damaging to coral and marine life.
Apart from this new focus, here are five more things you need to know about skin protection from now until the autumn:
1 You should be wearing a factor 30 sunscreen from April until the end of September, even on cloudy days – children should use a factor 50.
2 Yes, UVA rays can damage your skin even through glass, so windows/car windscreen.
3 As well as protecting your face, also remember your neck, chest and hands (a chemical sunblock is fine for these too). It should be the last layer of skincare you apply, and you need to use enough for full, even coverage.
4 “Most of us are vitamin D deficient and this is easily replaced – even just drinking Supermilk can help,” notes Professor Tobin. “But don’t avoid wearing sunscreen.”
5 The so-called “anti-ageing” benefits of wearing sunscreen for your skin are indisputable: UV rays have the biggest impact on skin in terms of accelerating the visible signs of ageing, such as lines, wrinkles, dark patches, pigment changes and redness. There’s no point buying expensive serums unless you’re also going to protect your skin.
4 skin protectors that you won’t mind wearing:
1 For physical sunblocks, Professor Tobin recommends DermaQuest and Image Skincare. Image Skincare’s Prevention+ Daily Tinted Moisturiser SPF30 offers broad-spectrum mineral protection and is free of oxybenzone, avobenzone and other chemicals. €49.50 at www.imageskincare.ie and from clinics nationwide including Renaissance, Howth; www.renaissanceskinclinic.ie
2 Skingredients Skin Shield SPF50. This new skin protector has a zinc oxide filter and gives skin a very subtle tint. It’s one of the few SPF50s that doesn’t turn your skin white. I find it very light on the skin, and not clogging or ghostly. Fragrance-free. From €42, www.skingredients.com
3 Biologique Recherche has a three-step programme for suncare, and the Triple Shield Complex Protection is an SPF50 with robust mineral filters plus natural antioxidants to protect skin and help reduce photoageing and limit skin dryness. Ideally, prepare skin before any sun exposure: Preparation UV promotes melanin production. Available from www.biologique-recherche.com and www.skinbyolga.ie
4 For a good pharmacy buy, try Avène Tinted Mineral Fluid SPF50+ which is fragrance free and has zinc oxide and titanium dioxide filters. €17.50 at www.boots.ie and pharmacies nationwide.
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