Know Your Skin Type
Safe and limited exposure to the sun has enormous benefits to all-round health. UVB sets off a chain reaction that helps the body produce vitamin D, which boosts bone health and prevents the development of osteoporosis. Sunshine also helps to reverse low mood and the symptoms of SAD (seasonal affective disorder).
But the key is to avoid over-cooking and to find a healthy balance. This healthy balance depends entirely on your skin type, which is defined by skin colour and response to the sun.
So, what kind of skin type do you have?
Some people still think that darker skins are more immune to sun damage. Not true. In fact, sun worshippers with very fair skins are often chased out of the sun by the burning sensation caused by the browning of the pigment melanin in the dermis.
So ironically a fair, sun-sensitive complexion can actually protect a sunbather from extended exposure and UV damage. That said, a pale skin can tolerate far less sun time safely.
Five minutes of sun time before 11:00 is a healthy maximum for type 1 skins (always burn, never tan, often accompanied by pale complexions, red hair and freckles) and type 2 skins (burn easily, tan minimally, with fair skin and blue, green or grey eyes).
People with olive and darker skins, who don’t see or feel the effect of UVB rays immediately, often allow themselves to spend more time on sun loungers.
As a result, they subject themselves to more UVA exposure that penetrates deeper into the dermis, causing ageing and affecting the skin on a cellular level.
People with medium-coloured skin should keep their exposure within the end ranges – before 10pm and after 3pm. These times take into account the length of time needed to gain the benefits of vitamin D synthesis through sun exposure.
Research has shown that more and more people with dark or black skins are being diagnosed with melanoma.
The tricky thing is that early warning signs such as a misshapen mole or sun damage are often not evident on darker skin tones. Plus, in dark-skinned people, melanoma seems to occur more frequently in unexposed areas – mostly the inside of the mouth, the nasal passages and between the toes.
While it may be genetic and it’s not clear why these unexposed areas are affected, the problem is they’re often caught way too late. So don’t scrimp on sunscreen and keep an eye on your moles.
Type 5 (brown skin that rarely burns and tans profusely to dark) and type 6 skins (least sensitive, deeply pigmented, rarely burn) can probably handle up to 20 minutes of sun exposure.
Monitor those moles
Certain moles need to be followed up on a regular basis, “such as the irregular ones that look a little like fried eggs,” says dermatologist Dr Mohamed Docrat. “These ‘dysplastic’ moles are high-risk and should be monitored through mole mapping, a computer-based screening process.”
Also, make sure you get screened and scanned on a regular basis if you have:
- More than 50 moles in total.
- Five or more large, irregular moles.
- Any first-degree relatives who’ve had melanoma.
Contrary to popular belief, in most cases the bigger and more noticeable the moles – such as the ones that stick out above the surface of the skin – are less likely to be dangerous. “Moles that are the best melanoma indicators are the small, flat, dark ones,” says dermatologist Dr Rowena McKenzie, “and knowing this is one of your greatest weapons against melanoma.”
These moles are flush against the skin and look like very dark freckles. Although this appearance isn’t dangerous, a change in appearance might be.
The message: be vigilant. Go for mole mapping with your dermatologist and check your moles regularly. If possible, measure the little flat dark ones annually to check for any changes in size. If the outer edges of a mole become irregular or if it changes shape or appearance in any way, contact your doctor.