Message in a Bottle

4.5 min read
MOJEH Issue 7, Photographed by Federico de Angelis

MOJEH Issue 7, Photographed by Federico de Angelis

There’s no hidden message. It’s simple: wear sunscreen. Now, more than ever, we source, buy and apply sunscreen. But we don’t always follow the mandatory rules. As the summer sun begins to heat up, we speak to Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf Associate Clinical Professor of Dermatology, Icahn School of Medicine of Mount Sinai about protecting our skin against the sun’s powerful rays. 

From a young age we’re told how essential it is to layer on the sun cream on a hot day, but as skin cancer continues to rise, are we taking every precaution available to us? Let’s get back to basics. Lying on the beach or by the pool is a highlight to many a person’s week (if they live in sunnier climes), but how long is too long in the sun? ‘Too long is if your skin changes colour. We recommend limiting your exposure when the sun is highest in the sky between 10am and 4pm. However, with adequate sun protection you can be outdoors all day safely – that’s a hat, sunglasses, sun protective clothing and sun screen applied 30 minutes before exposure, and reapplied every 1-2 hours and after swimming, sweating or towelling the skin. If someone can’t avoid sun exposure or if they are very sun sensitive taking Heliocare, which contains an oral antioxidant fern extract that’s been shown to reduce UVA induced inflammation can be a useful adjunct. Note that sunscreen should have both UVA and UVB protection.’ Purchasing sun cream can be a confusing task in itself. With so many brands on the market, it’s difficult to decipher which one suits your skin best. Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf says, ‘For UVB – short wave ‘burning rays’ – protection the SPF number can be your guide the world over. Look for an SPF of at least 30. Higher numbers increase protection but with limiting returns. For UVA – long wave deep ‘aging rays’ – protection and avoiding changing pigmentation the USA doesn’t yet have unified labelling. Elsewhere in the world you may find IPD and PPD ratings. I recommend looking for the active ingredients of zinc oxide, titanium dioxide, mexoryl, avobenzone and tinosorb.’

In the Middle East, the heat will rise and the rays will become stronger over the next coming months. Now is the time to stock up on the right type of protection for you. The market for sun cream is constantly developing and the range of products on offer can sometimes seem limitless. ‘Sunscreen products are becoming more and more cosmetically elegant and easy to use. There is no longer any excuse for someone to say they can’t find one they like! There are silky formulas, quick dry, non-oily, and so on. Also now many companies make sun protective lightweight clothing. I tell patients to remember that Bedouin attire keeps them cooler than modern – UV bounces off light colored fabric while it absorbs into the skin as heat. Since it is so hot one addition is to use a water resistant formula that is oil free if you are going to be sweating.’

Like our skin, it’s equally important to protect our scalp and hair. Josh Wood, one of the beauty industries foremost trend setters and hair stylist to the stars, knows the value of hair protection. ‘The base colour of your hair dictates the kind of protection and frequency of application that you should be aiming for. In theory darker hair tones that have been lifted with highlights or a tint are more susceptible. That blondes in fact sometimes go blonder can even improve with measured sun exposure, but brunette tones want to keep those glossy cooler tones and the sun is the workstation enemy to those tones. If you wear a parting, the scalp can get burnt just like the rest of the body. So always protect the scalp. I also like to use a conditioner with ingredients that nourish the scalp.’ And what is the best protection for your hair and scalp? A hat.

A lot of our skin damage can occur during our younger years, but is it reversible or treatable? ‘Like the lungs, the skin makes new cells so changing bad habits like cigarette smoking and excessive sun exposure will improve health. In addition, we have noninvasive procedures and topical products that can improve the dermis and epidermis health and appearance.’ Many of us have made the mistake of burning on the beach more than once. ‘If you’ve gotten too much sun, try to limit the damage by limiting the inflammation. Take an oral aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like Ibuprofen. Apply a topical over the counter steroid cream like 1% hydrocortisone cream. Cool the skin with wet compresses – the lactic acid in whole milk can help if the skin is blistered (use a ratio of 1:1 water:milk). And keep internally hydrated with cool water.’

It’s not all doom and gloom. The sun provides us with health benefits in abundance. Vitamin D is essential for absorbing calcium and forming healthy bones. ‘The sun has psychological effects – look at sufferers of seasonal affective disorder. It also helps convert vitamin D into its active form in the skin.’ But Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf confirms that indoor tanning and smoking should be avoided and carrying out regular skin exams should always be on your agenda. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends the following simple steps – ‘See spot. See spot change. See a dermatologist.’ 

Melanoma is known to be the most serious and potentially deadly skin cancer. It’s essential to follow the ABCDE’s when checking a mole or brown spot on your skin – Asymmetry (where one half of the mole is different from the other half), Borders (if they are irregular, scalloped or poorly defined), Colour (if it varies from one area to another), Diameters (the size of 6mm or larger) and Evolving (change in shape). Taking a photograph of a mole can help you to notice change over time. If a change occurs, get it checked. Dr. Heidi A. Waldorf also believes you should be aware of ‘basal cell carcinoma, which is the most common, and classically looks like a shiny or pearly red bump and may bleed or scab – some patients think they have a pimple that just doesn’t go away over many months. In general, if you have a sore that doesn’t heal, get it checked by a dermatologist.’

Make this summer a time to change your sun protection habits for the better. With statistics showing that people apply only 25-50% of what they should to get the labelled protection, it’s time to get serious about staying safe in the sun. Like most things in life, the sun should be enjoyed, but in moderation. As Australian film director, Baz Luhrmann, famously said: ‘If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.’