Sun Damage – Best Three Defense Lines


Is the  sun  bad  for  us ?

1)Some sun-induced damage can be corrected simply by protecting the skin.  More than any other organ of the body, the skin preserves its ability for renewal and self-repair.  The upper layer, the epidermis, replaces most of itself every month. In addition, the skin contains enzymes which repair damage to the DNA of the cells and to the collagen caused by ultraviolet radiation.  In America a study was done by a researcher named Barbara Gilchrest, in which she compared the decrease in number of wrinkles in a large group of women who had used a preparation containing an anti-wrinkle substance (retinoic acid) to a group of women who avoided the sun and used a simple moisturizing cream.  According to the results, the skins of the women who avoided sun exposure but used no other means than a moisturizer also showed a reduction in the signs of sun damage including a reduction in the numbers of fine wrinkling.

2)The development of sun-induced skin cancer has two stages.  During the first stage, ultraviolet radiation injures the cell’s nucleus and causes a primary mutation in the genetic material.  The second stage occurs after ten or twenty years, and involves an additional change which causes a reaction in the impaired genetic material which in turn leads to the cell’s uncontrolled growth and the development of cancer.  Today it is known that improved sun protection will guard the body’s entire immune system.  The conclusion to be drawn from these data is that cancer develops in two stages and both related to the sun.  This first stage can be prevented by protecting a child’s skin from the sun, and the second stage can be prevented, at least partially, by continued protection in later years, in fact, throughout a person’s life.


Practicing dermatologists like myself do not want to frighten you into having nightmares or to deprive you of the pleasures of life.  It is helpful if you view prevention of sun damage as a battle having certain lines of defense, and to form new habits incorporating these lines.  The first line of defense is to plan outdoor activities during the hours when the sun’s rays are weakest; the second is to choose naturally shady areas and to wear a hat and suitable clothing; the third is regular use of a sunscreen.

The First Line of Defense: Planning the Hours for Exposure to the Sun

It is wisest to plan outdoor activities during the hours when the sun’s rays are weakest; tennis lessons, gardening and trips to the beach or swimming pool should be scheduled for the early morning hours or the evening when it is cool and pleasant outside.  Sun damage is cumulative, and over a period of years the exposure you get just by walking in the sunshine for 10 minutes from one building to another during your lunch break and by working in the garden under a burning summer sun for half an hour causes irreparable damage to the skin.  If you live in a sunny area you should avoid exposure to the sun between the hours of 10 in the morning and 4 in the afternoon in so far as possible, since these are the hours when the sun’s rays are strongest and most direct.

Trips to the beach should be planned for the hours before 10 and after 4, and that includes summer camps and vacations.  Those who understand the dangers spend the hot humid hours in the shade or where there is air-conditioning and go to the beach only when the sun begins to set.

Tanning parlors should be avoided.  Today we know that artificial suntanning can cause skin damage as severe as and more severe than skin damage caused by the rays of the sun.  Fair skinned people who seek darker tanned skin should keep in mind that individuals who can’t tan in natural sunlight won’t be able to tan under a sun lamp!

The Second Line of Defense: Staying in the Shade and Wearing Proper Clothing

Anyone staying outdoors should seek the protection of a sunshade, either artificial, such as a sun umbrella, or natural, such as a tree or a high building.   Remember that a significant amount of the sun’s rays is reflected back by the air, the sand and the water of the sea or the swimming pool, and by bright surfaces such as concrete or snow.  It is recommended that you wear a wide-brimmed hat which will protect your face, neck and throat from the sun’s rays.  Front windshields of cars are now manufactured of special glass which blocks 90% to 95% of the sun’s ultraviolet rays.  The side windows are made of thinner glass and block only about 70%.  Since their protection is not complete, you should be sure to use a sunscreen when planning a long trip by car, even if the car is air conditioned.  People who are especially sensitive can buy special plastic UV filters  which can be attached to the windshields for extra protection.

You should wear sunglasses which block the sun’s ultraviolet rays in order to protect your eyelids and the sensitive skin around your eyes.  The correct use of sunglasses is also important in protecting the eyes themselves against ultraviolet radiation.  Ophthalmologists have long since shown that when the eyes are directly exposed to the sun’s rays, especially at a young age, there is an increased risk of cataracts in later life.


The data in this table show the great differences in the amount of protection afforded by various kinds of clothing.  A child wearing a thin white T-shirt absorbs 16% of the radiation he or she would absorb by being completely naked.  When the shirt is dry, its protection is three times greater.  Therefore it is advisable to wear clothing even in the shade.  During summer it is worthwhile to wear a dark-colored shirt of closely-woven material. Fair skinned people or individual with photosensitivty may use specially dasigned sun protective clothes made from special fabrics.

The Third Line of Defense: Sunscreens

It is definitely recommended that every fair-skinned person apply a sunscreen in the morning and afternoon, all year long.  Every person should apply a sunscreen to the exposed areas of the body, using one with a sun protection factor (SPF) of between 15 and 30.  The day is not far off when the use of sunscreens will become a personal hygiene habit as common and as regular as brushing teeth.

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