It’s interesting to note that prior to the 1920s, pale skin was generally considered desirable and an indication of wealth and sophistication; parasols and large hats protected fashionable ladies from the sun. But in the early part of the 20th century, medical researchers discovered the therapeutic benefits of sunshine and vitamin D, and bronze skin became the standard for summer fashion.
Unfortunately for sun-worshipers, tanning can result in more harm than good, as a growing a body of research has revealed the negative effects of the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Unprotected skin and hair can suffer irreparable damage, as can the eyes, from overexposure to UVA and UVB rays.
Ultraviolet light is electromagnetic radiation emitted by the sun. UVA rays are present throughout the year, even on cloudy and hazy days, and they penetrate deep into the skin causing signs of aging including wrinkles and sunspots. UVB rays, responsible for sunburns, vary in intensity, being stronger in the summer, but they can reflect off snow, so skin protection is important year round. Long-term exposure to ultraviolet radiation may damage the skin’s DNA and produce genetic mutations that can lead to skin cancers, including the deadliest form, melanoma.
Our eyes and our hair are also at risk for damage from the sun’s radiation. Overexposure can lead to cataracts, growths on the eyelids, damage to the retina (solar retinopathy) and various types of cancer. Sun-damaged hair can be dull, dry and brittle. Here are some suggestions for protecting your skin, eyes and hair:
- Start with healthy nutrition and ample hydration.
- Use sunscreen daily. Both face and body need protection. Products should be SPF 15 or higher and guard against both UVA and UVB rays. Don’t forget your earlobes, the part in your hair, and your hands and feet. Look for leave-in hair conditioners, sunscreen spray for your scalp, eye creams and lip protectors.
- Wear protective clothing and accessories. A wide-brimmed hat will protect your hair and face, and UV blocking sunglasses will help to keep your eyes healthy. Some contact lenses screen out UV rays, but they shield only the parts that are covered, so it is important to use sunglasses even with your contacts. And shop carefully; don’t be fooled by high prices and dark colors. Not all sunglasses block UV rays equally. Look for those that are rated to block 99 to 100% of UV rays and screen out at least 75% of visible light.
- Remember to balance your dietary and supplement intake of antioxidants to fortify skin, hair, and nails.
- Chlorine in pools can dry out your hair.
- Some medications can make skin sunburn more easily. Ask your doctor if you need to be extra careful to avoid burning.
- Don’t smoke! In addition to cancer, lung damage and heart disease, smoking dries the skin and causes premature wrinkles.
You’re never too young or too old to take good care of your skin, eyes and hair. Always remember the sunscreen and sunglasses and remember to wear protective clothing. You might even take a tip from the fashionistas of the Victorian era, and get a stylish umbrella with UV fabric to help protect you from the sun.