Given the increasing temperatures every summer especially in hot countries like Egypt, the task of taking care of the skin during the summer months is becoming more and more of a challenge. There are multiple risks for the skin besides being subjected to too much sunlight as happens with sunburn.
Dermatologist Mahmoud Abdallah adds to the list of harms that too much sun can cause to the skin. “Sunburn, uneven pigmentation, freckles, redness, and aging are the most common types of skin problems caused by too much exposure of the skin to the sun,” he says.
“The first problem is that people with light skin could suffer from sunburn if they do not use proper skin protection when in the sun. The second is that people could develop allergies or other problems after exposure to the sun,” he said, adding that some people may also suffer from such conditions in the winter.
“The third problem is uneven pigmentation that can appear in the form of freckles or larger patches, with this happening mostly to women and often pregnant women. A fourth problem is aging, because the sun’s rays break up the collagen in the skin. Those who are subjected to the sun a lot without protection will suffer from aging skin faster and have a higher risk of skin cancer. A driver will find that his skin ages faster on the side nearest to the car window, for example,” Abdallah said.
Some people believe that the darker the skin, the more it can endure the sun’s heat. But “darker skin types have nothing to do with heat endurance, although they do endure ultraviolet rays more than light-coloured skin,” he said. “However, there is no difference between types of skin when subjected to infrared rays. So, there are no differences between dark skin and light skin types when it comes to heat.”
The most dangerous times of the day to be exposed to the sun are from 10 am to 4 pm because ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that are responsible for most cases of sunburn are most prevalent at this time, Abdallah said.
“There are many types of skin, classified according to colour and response to sun exposure. The Fitzpatrick categorisation divides the skin into six types, for example. Skin type 1 is always subjected to burns, but never tans, while skin type six always tans and rarely burns,” he said.
In order to achieve a healthy skin, people should drink from six to eight cups of water per day to moisturise their skin and use sunscreen. Sunscreens are divided into organic and inorganic or physical and chemical types. The physical type reflects the light and has zinc in it. Both types protect against both UVA and UVB rays.
However, in some cases such precautionary actions are not enough. Abdallah said that people with skin types 1, 2, and 3 should visit a dermatologist for a check-up at least every year after the age of 30 to 35 to make sure that they are not developing skin cancer. They should also carry out a self-examination on a monthly basis and see a doctor if any cancer symptoms appear on their skin.
Sunburn is the most common problem developing after too much exposure to the sun. “The most common signs are redness of the skin and a burning sensation that could be accompanied by little stipples (spots on the skin with water in them). Some people may even not be able to wear clothes at home because their skin is peeling off,” Abdallah said, though this might be in exceptional cases.
“These types of burns can be treated with soothing creams in mild cases. In severe cases we prescribe cortisone injections and in others anti-allergy medication along with painkillers and anti-inflammatory medicine.”
Some types of skin are more vulnerable than others. “Skin types 1 and 2 are the most vulnerable to skin cancer, sunburn, and skin problems in general, while types 4 to 6 are more vulnerable to problems of pigmentation,” Abdallah said. Other types of categorisation that depend on dividing the skin into types like oily skin, mixed skin, and dry skin have nothing to do with responses to the sun.
Over the last couple of years there has been a trend in the Egyptian cosmetics market to use natural ingredients, especially in skincare products. Abdallah said that such products can be used as long as they come from reliable suppliers.
“Using natural ingredients can be a bit like going into the unknown. Companies that manufacture artificial products have tested the ingredients and know their side effects and dosage, which is not always the case with natural remedies. Natural does not equal safe because it may not have been properly researched and the active ingredient in it may not even be known. There is also the question of what dosage is suitable or even side effects. Sometimes, it is not known whether such substances contain any harmful impurities,” he said.
However, not all natural ingredients should be avoided. Rose water can be used in a natural soothing cream. It is also a good make-up remover.
Tips for summer skin
To protect your skin from the sun, it is not enough to just use sunscreen lotion. You should also wear a hat and long clothing, especially if you get sunburn or go swimming.
Always sit in the shade and choose the right time of day to be subjected to the sun. Take Vitamin C, which helps to decrease the harm of the sun’s rays on the skin.
Use a sunscreen that suits your type of skin. If you have greasy skin, use the fluid or gel type. If you have dry skin, use one in the form of a cream. Apply sunscreen every three hours whether you are in direct or indirect sunlight.
Some people may think that if they stay in the shade they are protected, but this is not true. Ultraviolet rays on a beach come from multiple sources, including from reflection off the sea. Bear in mind that sunscreen can stay on while in water for 45 minutes.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 August, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.