Many people who move to the UAE are drawn by the lure of beaches and year-round sunshine, but all that tanning has its hazards. The World Health Organisation estimates that more than 60,000 people die from overexposure to sun each year, with most of those deaths attributed to skin cancer.
Clearly, as our bodies’ largest organ, we should be taking better care of our skin. Not sure how? We asked Samar Maatouk, of UAE-wide cosmetic skincare centre Silkor, to find out how to best protect yourself this summer, and all year round.
‘A combination of strong sun, high temperatures and humidity puts your skin at a higher risk in Dubai compared with other countries,’ Samar says. She explains that as a result she normally advises people to avoid being in the sun during peak hours, which occur between 10am and 4pm. If you insist on going out, she continues, ‘wear a hat, sun-protective clothing and sunglasses.’ Of course, some sun worshippers won’t be deterred, in which case Samar underlines the risks in the case of repeated or over-exposure. ‘There is a tendency for your skin to turn dry and lose its elasticity, so fine lines and wrinkles become more visible,’ she warns. ‘Freckles and skin pigmentation appear on exposed skin, causing hyper-pigmentation, in which the chemical melanin plays an important role in darkening various parts of the skin. The most dangerous problem is skin cancer, and ultraviolet radiation emitted from the sun is the main cause of this.’
Sunscreen is the main way to shield your skin, but surprisingly few people understand how sun protection works and how to apply it. Confused? Take note of the following…
You must be protected from UVA and UVB rays. While UVAs are the ageing (wrinkling) rays, UVBs are the burning (skin cancer) rays. Most sun protection takes care of UVB (the SPF figure refers to your protection from UVB rays), but you need to protect against UVA, too. Look for the words ‘broad spectrum’ on products, and look at the ingredients.
If you see ‘avobenzone’ or ‘zinc oxide’, you’re UVA safe. Avobenzone has a reputation for being unstable (disintegrating after a few hours), but some brands add oxybenzone, which lessens the breakdown, so you’re protected for longer.
Wear higher SPF for longer protection, not stronger. SPF doesn’t refer to the strength of your protection, it refers to the time. So, if you’re using SPF 10, you’ll be able to stay in the sun for ten times longer than normal before burning. If you use SPF 30, it will take 30 times longer to burn. So, assuming it takes your skin ten minutes to burn with no protection, using a single application of SPF 30 will give you 300 minutes of protection. But as soon as you swim or sweat, you need to re-apply, or you’re back to zero protection. And you don’t get another 300 minutes, you just pick up where you left off when you jumped into the pool.
Use generously. It’s vital that you use enough product, Roughly one teaspoon per limb is required for your SPF to do its job at the strength indicated on the bottle. If you use too little product, your SPF 15 could be more like an SPF 4. Silkor, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 348 0500).
Samar’s essential tips
Whether you’re staying in Dubai this summer and are planning to brave rising temperatures to soak up the sun, or you’re escaping to cooler shores, make note of Samar’s advice.
1 Use sunblock with a minimum SPF 50 to ensure maximum protection for your skin.
2 Drink plenty of water. It makes up 60 percent of our bodies, and is crucial when it comes to staying hydrated.
3 Avoid the sun in peak times (10am to 4pm) and don’t ‘sun-bake’. Sun exposure can cause a process called oxidation, which affects our skin causing wrinkles and other signs of premature ageing.
4 Use a hydrating mask and a scrub once a week. This will help your skin by supplying it with extra hydration and nourishment to combat drying and ageing.