Few of us in Britain would think to apply sunscreen every day of the year (even in summer many of us don’t use it enough). But you should, not only because of the damaging UVB light (the short-wave, ultraviolet, burning rays) in summer sun but because of UVA (the long-wave, ageing) rays.
It’s your year-round exposure to UVA that often renders the most noticeable long-term skin damage. Wrinkles, dullness, blotchy pigmentation and a loss of elasticity can all be blamed on daily UVA exposure
The sun’s UVA rays don’t generate heat and cannot be felt on your skin. But their length is far reaching and ever present, penetrating directly to the deeper dermal layers of the skin every day, come rain, hail or shine. Even through glass they reach your skin.
It’s tempting to think UVA damage doesn’t apply to you if, most days, you barely venture into the sunshine; that your quick pop-to-the-shops in your lunch break hardly rates as too much sun. Or that you’re OK as your foundation or moisturiser has SPF15+ in it. Problem solved.
Well, no. The sun protection rating in your moisturiser or foundation may not cover the full broad spectrum of light needed to protect your skin from UVA damage. Even your usual sunscreen may not be sufficient; it is only broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects you from UVA.
If you have blotchy brown age spots on areas like your chest, arms and hands, these are not just tell-tale signs of too much summer sun over the years. The truth is, they’re the cumulative effect of exposure to UVA. Ten minutes a day of UVA exposure over a lifetime adds up to a whole lot of damage.
1. Less natural protection: depleted vitamin A
One of the most important nutrients in the skin is Retinyl Palmitate, a derivative of vitamin A, which acts as a natural sunscreen in the skin. Although it doesn’t replace the need for daily application of a broad spectrum sunscreen, research is emerging that suggests skins with sustained levels of retinyl palmitate are less likely to develop skin cancer later in life.
Unfortunately, the downside is that Retinyl Palmitate is extremely sensitive to light. So while it gives your skin natural sun protection, it’s also easily destroyed with continued exposure to UVA light from the sun.
2. Dry, parched skin: loss of natural moisture
Daily exposure to UVA light activates a cascade of free radical activity leading to a degradation of the skin that compromises its ability to retain its natural moisture. This lipid barrier impairment caused by UVA will leave the skin dry, parched and dehydrated, no matter how much moisturiser you apply.
3. Wrinkles and sagging: damaged collagen and elastin
This free radical activity also allows the skin to oxidise, just like the oxidation that occurs when an apple is cut and exposed to light and air. Damaging enzymes are activated and break down your skin’s collagen. Any breakdown in collagen will lead to a loss of strength and structure in the skin, which will appear as wrinkling and sagging.
4. Altered cell function: damaged DNA structure
The blueprint of every cell in your skin is found in its DNA. UVA light wreaks havoc with the DNA of skin cells, leading to a mutated replication of the cell. Your cell will know of no other way to function and then continues to reproduce dysfunctional cells, leading to a cascade of unfavourable events for your skin.
5. Cancer and viruses: lowered skin immunity
Like any aspect of the body’s immune system, your skin has its own immune responses and protective organisms and cells. In the dermal layer of the skin they are known as Langerhan cells and provide your skin with round-the-clock immunity. When the skin is exposed to extended periods of sunlight these hard-working cells retreat, and poor skin immunity leaves it susceptible to skin cancers, viruses, poor collagen production and slower healing processes.
6. Nutrient deficiency: vitamin D damage
UVB rays stimulate the synthesis and production of pre-vitamin D, which is why ten minutes a day of sun exposure is now known to help your vitamin D stores. Once activated by the sun and synthesised via the kidneys and liver, it returns to various organs of the body, including the skin, to provide immune protection.
However, research is emerging that suggests extended exposure to UVA destroys essential nutrients like vitamins A, C and E, Carotene and the active form of vitamin D in the skin, leaving skin constantly vitamin deficient.
So have your ten minutes’ exposure a day, but other than that wear broad spectrum sunscreen to prevent the long-term exposure to UVA that will damage the active vitamin D in your skin.
Get vitamin D3 from nutritional sources. These include cod liver oil emulsions, fatty fish and full-fat dairy products like milk, butter and yoghurt.
Choose a well-formulated broad spectrum sunscreen, moisturiser and foundation designed to protect your skin from both UVB and UVA light.
Take an oral supplement rich in antioxidants and essential vitamins.
Use a topical serum rich in nutrients; these included niacinamide (B3), retinyl palmitate, alpha tocopherol (vitamin E) and ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
This way you will be giving your skin a full armoury against the long-term damage of daily exposure to UVA sunlight.