Caring for the Skin You’re in: Sun Safety

Massage therapists see a lot of skin. All colors, all textures. Freckles, scars, stretch marks, moles. Skin with lots of hair & skin with none. Skin doesn’t surprise us…

…except when it does. That brown spot on your shoulder blade? It wasn’t quite that big when you came in a month ago. And it looks less like an oval and a little more like a blob. Maybe you should have that checked out?

What happens when you get a sunburn?

You’re exposed to the sun and then your skin turns red and itchy, right? Well, yes. But there’s more to it…

When you step out into the sunlight (or drive in the daytime, or sit near a window)… you’re bombarded by UV radiation. This radiation causes mismatches in the curlicue of your DNA in the nucleus of your skin cells, which is dangerous and could eventually lead to cancer.

Your skin jumps into protective action redistributing melanin (the pigment that causes suntans, and which helps to protect your DNA from further damage).

If you stay in the sun (especially if you’re fair skinned and don’t have much melanin to go around), you start to see an inflammatory response. It’s the same kind of inflammation that you see when you sprain your ankle, only spread out across your damaged skin.

Your blood vessels dilate to get more nutrients and infection-fighting cells to your skin, making it red and warm to the touch. Itching and pain result, a warning signal from your body that something’s wrong. You may feel thirsty and tired as your body works to repair itself.

If the burn is severe, you may see blisters. With one of my most serious sunburns, my feet swelled so much that I could only wear flipflops for 2 weeks.

Eventually, even if you didn’t have any blisters, you will get flaking and peeling of the top layer of your skin. Interestingly enough, these skin cells weren’t killed by UV radiation. When skin cells recognize that their DNA has been severely damaged, they deliberately die off rather than risk becoming cancerous. This planned cell death is called apoptosis, and it’s the reason you see massive numbers of skin cells coming loose at once.

How can you protect your skin?

The short answer: Stay away from UV radiation. This means tanning beds as well as sunlight.

The longer answer: Unless you plan to become a vampire, you will probably be exposed to sunlight at least some of the time. The trick is to reduce that exposure to a safe level by seeking shade, wearing protective clothing, and using sunscreen.

How much sun is safe?

This depends on two main variables: the UV Index and your skin type.

UV Index

The UV Index is a measure of the level of UV radiation in your location at any given point in time. It’s something you can easily look up on your computer or phone before heading out the door. Some weather apps have a UV Index layer on the radar. In general, global UV Index recommendations look something like this:

  • 1-2: Low. Enjoy being outside!
  • 3-7: Medium. Seek shade at midday, put on a shirt and hat, wear sunscreen. Did you know, the amount of sunscreen you need is approximately the size of a shot glass full. Don’t forget your ears or the back of your neck.
  • 8+: High. Stay indoors at midday, seek shade as much as possible, sunscreen is an absolute must. Look for a sunscreen that says Broad Spectrum, SPF 30+.

Skin type

With the exception of people with albinism, everyone has some melanin in their skin. Those with more of the protective pigmentation are less susceptible to DNA damage in their skin cells from UV radiation than those with less.

  • Type I: Very pale, burns quickly, never tans
  • Type II: Pale, burns easily, rarely tans
  • Type III: Burns moderately, tans over time to light brown
  • Type IV: Burns minimally, tans to medium brown
  • Type V: Rarely burns, tans to dark brown.
  • Type VI: Never burns, rarely tans, deeply pigmented skin.

What about vitamin D?

Yup, you need vitamin D in your body to stay healthy. And yes, your skin manufactures vitamin D in response to UV radiation. So shouldn’t you go without sun protection sometimes for the nutritional benefits?…Dermatologists don’t recommend that route…

Luckily, there are a number of sources of vitamin D that don’t also cause skin cancer. Fish, mushrooms, eggs, & fortified dairy products are all excellent sources. Or there are vitamin D supplements. My doctor has me taking a prescription-strength Vitamin D3.

Caring about your skin isn’t about vanity.

It’s your body’s largest organ, and I want my clients to stay healthy! #naturalskinrocks

Massage therapists love skin. We work with it on a daily basis and appreciate all it does to keep your insides in, and your outsides out. Your skin keeps you cool, tells you what’s around you, prevents infections & repairs itself at a remarkable rate. So take care of it!

And maybe bring it in for a massage.

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