Prove your humanity

Now that the relentless summer sun has arrived (yay!) and winter is a long-forgotten memory (peeps who like winter—what the heck?), we need to talk about looking after our skin.

Our skin is considered the largest organ of the body. It is our first defence against the elements, foreign particles and microbes which can wreak havoc if allowed to enter our body. It helps us regulate body temperature and allows the sensations of heat, cold, pain and touch.

The skin has three main layers: the epidermis, the dermis and the hypodermis. The epidermis is the thin, outermost layer; it provides a waterproof barrier and gives us our skin tone. Skin tone is determined by cells called melanocytes which produce the pigment melanin. The darker the skin tone, the more melanin is produced. The next layer is the dermis and it contains connective tissue, hair follicles and sweat glands. The hypodermis is made up of fat and connective tissue.

Although the sun rises everyday, the layers of our skin are more prone to damage in the summer because the Earth is closer in position to the sun; and, as it gets hotter, we wear less and less layers, so the danger increases.

Sunlight is made up of visible light, ultraviolet light and infrared radiation. There are three different types of UVs.

The first is UVA, which is what is used in cosmetic sun tanning; however, research suggests that UVA can cause damage to the body through the formation of unstable cells which may lead to cancer—so maybe avoiding it wouldn’t be a bad idea. UVA can penetrate quite deeply into the dermis and exert its nasty effects there.

The second is UVB, most of which is absorbed by the Earth’s atmosphere (the Ozone layer). What’s leftover can cause damage to the DNA in our cells, sunburn, accelerate ageing, and promote cancer. UVB is almost completely absorbed by the epidermis and does not penetrate the skin layer much deeper.

Lastly: UVC. Again, most if not all of it is absorbed by the atmosphere, with very little to zero reaching the skin.

But, of course, exposure to sunlight is beneficial as well.

UVB helps activate the production of vitamin D in the body, which plays a vital role in regulating the amount of calcium and phosphorous in the body (this, in turn, maintains proper bone structure). A lack of vitamin D in children causes rickets, characterised by soft bones, fractures, bone pain and deformities.

Research indicates that sun exposure releases endorphins (the feel-good hormones), improves sleep, and strengthens the immune system. Interestingly, one study found that high schoolers’ test results improved upon sun exposure prior to attending school—the results are linked with sleep patterns.

Of course, some parts of the Earth are more exposed to the sun depending on seasons and cloud cover, but it is important to take the necessary precautions to look after your skin—even on a cloudy day when it seems little sunlight will reach you.

Otherwise you risk damaging your skin.

Sunburn is clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells have been damaged by extended exposure to UV rays. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, those melanocyte cells produce more pigment, or melanin, causing the skin to darken and tan. So that radiant tan you’re expecting to get this summer is actually a sign of skin damage …

Signs of sunburn can appear in less than 15 minutes of sun exposure. Skin can appear red within two to six hours of being burnt and continues to develop within the next few days. Mild sunburn can be treated by putting a cold, damp towel on the skin, applying aloe vera creams and drinking lots of water. However, severe sunburn will require medical attention. The long-term effects of continued sunburn include wrinkling due to the destruction of collagen in the skin, as well as damage to DNA cells which increases the risk of skin cancers. This includes melanoma, which is often referred to as “Australia’s national cancer” as we have one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world!

According to the Melanoma Institute Australia, 14,000 Australians were diagnosed with melanoma in 2017. It is the most common cancer in young Australians aged between 15 and 39. One person every five hours will die from melanoma in Australia, and these statistics are on the rise.

So, what precautions can we take to look after our skin? For those planning to tan on the beach for hours on end this summer: listen up.

To reduce the risk of sunburn and skin damage, SunSmart Australia recommends the “5 S’es”:

“Slip” on a shirt, “Slop” on some sunscreen, “Slap” on a hat, “Seek” shade, and “Slide” on some sunnies.

So while you’re soaking up that glorious Aussie sun, don’t forget to look after your skin this summer.