Sun alert : Don’t shun it.

A recent report in The Straits Times (February 22, 2018) ran this title, “Ultraviolet radiation in Singapore hit highest ‘extreme’ level of 15 twice in last 2 weeks”.

It was referring to a high one-hour average ultraviolet (UV) reading of 15 that was recorded at 1pm and 2pm on February 19.

Similar high UV readings were also recorded around that period – 12 on Feb 16, 13 over that weekend (Feb 17 and 18), 15 on Monday 19 and 14 on Tuesday 20.

These readings were recorded between 11am and 3pm.

The UV index is an international standard measurement of the ultraviolet radiation, ranging from 0 (low) to 11+(extreme).

Geographically, countries near the equator are prone to more exposure to UV radiation.

With little doubt, Singapore being just 1.35°N of the equator is not sparred from the merciless sun.

The sun is the nearest star to Earth. Many things depends on the sun to survive and grow. However, too much of it is harmful – especially to our skin and eyes.

The sun gives out UV rays in different wavelengths before reaching the earth’s surface – UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVA is a lot more abundant than UVB on earth surface. However, the latter attacks the skin more strongly, producing more intense sunburns and tanning. In fact, controlled doses of artificial UVB have been used to treat skin diseases such as psoriasis and eczema where the overactive immune cells respond to topical applications. Both UVA and UVB strike on our skin’s DNA and produce harmful free radicals. The third ray, UVC, is almost fully absorbed at the ozone layer.

Other than from the sun, some of us also expose ourselves to UV rays by using tanning beds and sun lamps. In fact, a tan (natural or artificial) is not a sign of healthy body, but rather it indicates the skin has been damaged by UV rays. Nail parlours also use UV lamps to dry some types of nail polish.

Why are we so concerned about UV radiation? Answer – It is a major risk factor in skin cancer. UV rays damage the DNA of our skin cells. This in turn damages the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth and that is where skin cancer comes in.

People who live in areas with year-round, bright sunlight, and / or spend a lot of time outdoors for work or recreation without protective clothing and sunscreen are at a higher risk of skin cancer.

For those of us who still think that sun protection refers to only when we are out at the beach or pool, it is time to throw that thought away towards the sun.

The following are some ways to minimise the harmful effects of UV exposure.

1. Shade

Stay in the shade where possible. UV radiation is the strongest between 10am and 4pm.

Use the shadow test – if your shadow is shorter than you are, it means the sun rays are the strongest.

We always joke about jumping into the pool under the hot sun. Well, UV rays can reach below the water’s surface, so you can still get a burn while you are feeling nice and cool submerged.

2. Sunscreen

Sunscreen works by absorbing and diffusing the UV lights before it reaches into the skin.

SPF number indicates how many times longer you can stay in the sun without getting burnt.

For example, it usually takes 20mins for you under the sun before you get burnt. Applying a sunscreen with SPF 15 allows you to be in the sun up to 15 times longer, that is about 300 minutes or 5 hours without burning. However, do not take this as an entitlement to soak up the sun.

Look for sunscreen that indicate “broad spectrum” – they protect against both UVA and UVB rays.

Sunscreen can wash off when you swim or perspire. So, make sure you reapply them regularly. And slap on it generously.

3. Clothing

Many companies now make lightweight and comfortable clothing with UV protection. The clothing tends to be more tightly woven, and some have special coatings to help absorb UV rays. They may have a UV protection factor (UPF) label indicating the level of protection the garment provides from the sun’s UV rays, on a scale from 15 to 50+. The higher the UPF, the higher the protection from UV rays.

4. Sunglasses

UV-blocking sunglasses protect the delicate skin around the eyes, as well as the eyes themselves. Long hours in the sun without protecting your eyes increase your chances of developing certain eye diseases.

The ideal sunglasses should block 99% to 100% of UVA and UVB rays. Look out for labels that read “UV absorption up to 400 nm” or “Meets ANSI UV Requirements” – this means the glasses block at least 99% of UV rays.

If there is no label on the shades, it is safer not to assume any UV protection.

5. Shade Hat/ Cap

A baseball cap protects only the front and top of head, exposing the neck and ears where skin cancer usually forms. What is more helpful is a hat with a wide brim (at least 2 to 3 inch all around), preferably with a reflective underside. A shade cap with side flaps would also help to protect the ears and neck.

It is almost impossible to avoid Mister Sun totally. Knowing how to protect ourselves, we do not have to skip the outdoors and fun altogether. Many of us may have already been practicing sun protection diligently. Even if you are only just made aware, it is never too let to get started now.

References:

Hamblin, James. If our bodies could talk. Doubleday. 2016.

Yarosh, Daniel, PhD. The new science of perfect skin. Broadway Books. 2008.

The Straits Times – Ultraviolet radiation in Singapore hit highest ‘extreme’ level of 15 twice in last 2 weeks.

http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/environment/ultraviolet-radiation-in-singapore-hit-highest-extreme-level-of-15-twice-in

PUBLISHED

February 22, 2018. ACCESSED March 20, 2018

National Skin Center-Patient’s guide on skin cancers. https://www.nsc.com.sg/Patient-Guide/Health-Library/Types%20of%20Skin%20Conditions/Pages/Skin-Cancers.aspx?mobile=true

UPDATED October 28,2013. ACCESSED March 20, 2018

UV Radiation and UV Index

http://www.nea.gov.sg/training-knowledge/weather-climate/uvradiation-uvindex

UPDATED November 23,2015. ACCESSED March 20, 2018

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