News items Five questions about sun protection
17 May 2022

With these sunny days, good sun protection is very important. Good sun protection consists of several measures, and one of these measures in particular has been the subject of debate on social media: sunscreen. Dermatologist Satish Lubeek explains why sunscreen is of great importance and what to look out for. 

Why is it important to protect yourself from the sun?

'Sunlight has both good and bad properties. Positive properties are that many people feel more comfortable with sunlight and it helps our bodies to make vitamin D. For these positive effects, a small amount of exposure to sunlight is enough. Fifteen minutes daily with face and hands in daylight, whether sunny or cloudy, is enough for enough vitamin D.'

'But the sun also has bad properties. Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight causes damage to our skin cells. Sunburn (redness, sensitivity and sometimes blisters) is the best known example of this. But even without burning, ultraviolet light causes damage to the skin. This damage is not immediately visible, but accumulates in the skin throughout life. How bad the damage is depends on how long the skin has been exposed to sunlight. It also depends on how susceptible the skin is to sun damage. People with light skin types are especially prone to sun damage.'

What consequences does long exposure to the sun have?

'Damage to skin cells from sunlight, among other things, causes accelerated skin aging, such as wrinkles and discoloration. It is also the main cause of skin cancer. At the moment, one in five people in the Netherlands gets skin cancer at least once in their life. And this number is rapidly increasing.'

How can you protect yourself from the sun?

'By using the sun responsibly, we can limit the amount of damage to the skin from the sun and prevent consequences. This can be done through the following advice. Avoid sunbathing and using the sunbed. Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeves. Don't forget your head: wear a cap or hat, especially on and near the water. Avoid the sun during the hottest hours of the day, between 11 and 3. In doing so, applying sunscreen is very important.'

What should you look for when applying sunscreen? 

Choose a sunscreen with a good protection factor. This is indicated on the packaging by the abbreviation SPF (Solar Protection Factor), followed by a number. The SPF is the measure that indicates how much delay the cream gives on burning. If you normally burn after ten minutes, with factor 30 you would only burn after 10x30 (300) minutes. Do apply the cream thick enough for this.'

'But most people apply too thinly, which reduces the degree of protection. Seven teaspoons are needed to apply sufficient thickness to adult skin: one for face and neck, two for arms and shoulders, two for chest, abdomen and back, two for legs and feet. Don't forget ears and lips. Re-apply every two hours.'

'There are two types of ultraviolet radiation that cause skin damage: UV-A and UV-B. Therefore, choose a sunscreen that protects against both. In the European Union, only sunscreens that protect against both may be sold.'

'Finally, pay attention to the expiration date of the cream. Over time, sunscreen usually loses its protective capabilities, usually after twelve months. So buy new sunscreen on time. The price does not matter here. The cheapest house brand usually protects just as well as the most expensive variant in the store.'

What can you say about the attention there is now in the (social) media about the safety of sun block?

'There is indeed a lot of attention in the media and on social media for this topic. Sunscreens are subject to strict safety requirements and rules in the European Union, based on the latest scientific insights. Hormone-disrupting substances, according to European legislation, cannot be used in cosmetics, or only to a limited extent. The amounts involved are so small that the harmful effects are negligible.'

'The claim that there are carcinogenic substances in sun creams does not hold either. Extensive research has been done into this. If you use sun block as directed on the packaging, there are no indications that this increases the risk of cancer. What convincing scientific evidence does exist, however, is that sunlight causes skin cancer. So I appeal to everyone: protect yourself properly against the sun, especially with sun block.'

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