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September 29, 2021

The Sun… and how it affects your skin

By Heidi Gibbon, Aesthetician

In Trinidad and Tobago, we struggle with a love-hate relationship with the sun.  On one hand, it makes us feel “sooo good” as it releases endorphins that leave us wanting more! On the other hand, it can cause devastating effects on the ageing process and cause cancers that can lead to death.

I have been fortunate to have been exposed to the truth about the sun and its damaging effects from my early 20s. I am fondly known in my family as the “Sunblock Police!”.

Even though we hear these statements over and over, “wear sunblock every day, reapply every two hours if you are in the sun, wear a hat”, most of us think sunblock is an annoying gross substance that we try to avoid until it is too late!  The truth is, we do not truly understand the science and how devastating its effects can be.

You would think that genetics, smoking or diet would be responsible for premature ageing. Shockingly, it is the sun’s dangerous  rays we hold responsible for 80–90 per cent of premature ageing!

Ultraviolet A (UVA) rays damage your cell DNA and break down your collagen and elastin (the proteins responsible for plump, youthful skin). UVA also play a role in skin cancer formation and the dreaded sunspots. These rays are everywhere and can even penetrate glass windows.

Ultraviolet B (UVB) rays cause burns and are thought to cause most melanomas.

Many of us have a higher Fitzpatrick (a scale used to classify a person’s complexion in relation to their tolerance to sunlight), so we believe we are not at risk for skin cancer.

I chatted with local dermatologist Dr Tonya Abraham MD, Consultant Dermatologist, and asked her if she thought higher Fitzpatrick individuals were at less risk of being diagnosed with sun induced skin cancers.

“There is definitely some truth in the fact that those with fair, freckly skin and blonde, blue eyes are more at risk of skin cancer than those individuals with a higher Fitzpatrick skin type who genetically have more melanin (our skin’s natural protection), but that doesn’t mean that every single individual isn’t at risk for skin cancer,” she said.

“In fact, those with higher Fitzpatrick skin types often are the ones who develop aggressive melanoma on their palms and soles because this is where they are fairest and have the least natural protection.”

Dr Abraham does not think skin cancer is a rampant problem in T&T, but she does see cases from precancerous Actinic Keratosis (small, red scaly spots) which, if left alone, possibly become malignant and need surgery, to outright malignant skin cancers, most commonly Basal Cell Carcinomas and Squamous Cell Carcinomas.  She did express distress over the pandemic which has unfortunately led to the deadliest form of skin cancer—melanoma—being left undetected as patients were fearful to visit their dermatologist.

Therefore, during 2020, she has been challenged with some of the most aggressive melanomas requiring intensive surgery and chemotherapy.

Dr Abraham can be found at Serpentine Dermatology (serpentine-dermatology.com).

If you have any skincare/wellness questions, please send them to heigibbon@gmail.com, you can also find me on Instagram at mysalontt. I would love to hear from you.

Skincare tips from Dr Abraham

  • To prevent skin cancer, wear a broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above.
  • It’s also important and encouraged by all the major dermatological institutions to get an annual skin check from your dermatologist and bring to their attention any new or changing lesions.
  • Dr Abraham has never come across a Vitamin D deficiency in anyone in Trinidad or Tobago, so that’s no longer an excuse for lying out in the sun!

Here are 5 tips you may not have heard of:

  1. Wear a non-comedogenic foundation every day or a mineral powder. Thanks to the active mineral ingredient titanium dioxide (a physical sun blocker) present in almost all tinted makeup products, it protects your skin from the sun. My mother’s skin is testimony to this theory.
  2. Do not use a face oil in the day as this can interfere with the efficacy of your sunblock.
  3. Tint the windows of your car with a film that blocks UVA and UVB rays.
  4. Don’t forget to protect your neck and your chest. The skin on these areas is very thin and prone to ageing before the face.
  5. Add a Vitamin C and E serum in the day. This will help trap those free radicals and help prevent photo damage. This does not replace your sunblock.

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