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Sun Protection or Vitamin D?

Posted on 13 March, 2016

Sun protection is hitting the headlines again with  new guidance having been issued by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Many of us in our forties will know that as children of a generation who were discovering holidaying in the sun, if we were privileged enough to experience foreign travel we also commonly experienced sun damage. Sudden intense exposure to sunlight on our childhood holidays in those days was not broadly considered as a health risk. Indeed, in our teens, our obsession with sun tans and golden skin became the overriding ambition. Far from a golden Miami style tan many of us Brits ended up red and peeling. In my own experience I certainly remember a holiday in Bulgaria where I became blistered across my back, evidence of this skin damage is visible today in the form of tiny freckles.

As I mentioned in my previous post ‘Does the sun really harm my skin?’ it is fair to say that today we are much more knowledgeable about the negative effects of the sun. In recent years however, to add another dimension into the picture we have uncovered the beginnings of our understanding of the role of Vitamin D. Vitamin D is mainly synthesized in the skin exposed to direct sunlight. We can get some through foods and supplements but on the whole we do need to absorb sunlight for this purpose. Vitamin D is known to be a major contributing factor for Ricketts, a disease of the bones. This now appears to be only some of the story. Emerging science is finding links with other major health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes.

Adding to the confusion is that, although it seems likely that Vitamin D is essential to a healthy life and that the sun is the predominant source of Vitamin D. We do not know how to determine how much sunlight is needed to produce a given level, or the length of time needed or how other factors such as skin type, the amount of skin exposed, the time of day and year and how far someone is from the equator, affect the process of Vitamin D synthesis. The same variations can be said to apply to adverse sun exposure and so creating helpful tangible guidance on this subject will always be a challenge. NICE are telling us that our sunscreen should protect against UVA & UVB rays and that we should use Factor 15 or above. For me however, the most useful aspect of the new guidance does tell us that we need to use 6-8 teaspoons or 35ml for the average adult body to achieve the SPF stated on the product. Through treating clients with medical skincare (as I discuss in ‘Do Cosmetic Creams Work?’) I can often see when clients come back for review with their products, that the one of the main issues is around amount of product used. Many people understandably will use products sparingly, this may be partly due to anxiety regarding side effects of active creams but also in part to be more economical financially. With regards to medical skincare this underuse is going to mean that results are not as good as they should be or take more time to achieve but when it comes to sun protection the effects of under usage will be under protection.

So when you go on holiday try to plan realistically for how much product you will need to last your entire trip. Try to avoid eeking out small amounts of product because if you do not apply in the quantity needed you cannot assume that you have the protection stated on the bottle. You do need to apply around 30 minutes before sun exposure and to reapply throughout the day, including after swimming. Some may criticize aspect of the new guidance but it is an unknown science and in these circumstances some guidance is better than none. If you have any questions related to sun protection or sun damage, please get in touch.