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Sunscreen and tanning oil: Let the sun rays in
Published in Almasry Alyoum on 14 - 07 - 2010

When heading to one of the many beaches on the Egyptian coast, one item must not be forgotten: sunscreen. Without it, and under the cruel rays of the sun in Egypt, an unavoidable--and painful--fate awaits those who dare to sunbathe.
Sunscreens can indeed be your best friend on a sunny day, but they can also be your worst foe if not chosen with knowledge or applied with care.
“When on the beach, I can't stop myself from sunbathing,” says Helen Abdullah. “But I got sunburned on my third day on the beach when I didn't use sunblock.” Helen, a pretty brunette with bronze skin, likes to add more color to her skin when the opportunity presents itself, and blames her latest sunburn on her failure to lather up with sun cream.
Sunscreen, however, is not the only factor protecting your skin from harmful ultraviolet light. Other natural elements are at play in the process of protecting your skin from the diseases attributed to excessive exposure to sun, aside from the minor pains of sunburn.
“Melanin is the primary determinant of human skin color,” says Dr. Ramzy Onsy Iskandar, a consultant in dermatology. “People with darker skin [who have a greater amount of melanin] have better natural protection against harmful sun rays than white people in general.”
Using sunblock is a necessity even when you are not sitting directly in sunlight. According to Dr. Iskandar, you can't simply escape the sun by sitting under an umbrella. The reflection of ultraviolet rays from the sand around you or even through clouds covering the sun can cause sunburn. “Even when you're atop a mountain with snow all around you, the reflection of the light onto your skin from the snow itself can be harmful,” he says.
“Clothing is another simple layer of protection that people usually misunderstand,” Iskander explains. “Most people wear white t-shirts on the beach thinking that they are protecting their skin. What they miss is that the darker the color of the t-shirt, the more effective it is in protecting your skin from the sun.”
When asked about picking her sunscreen product, Kelly McBride, an-all-American girl living in Egypt who enjoys an occasional trip to the Red Sea every now and again, says: “Ideally, I want an organic and affordable product with the smallest possible amount of chemicals.” Her statement echoes the benefits she requires from the product. “I need protection from skin cancer and protection against looking like a lobster,” she adds. “I want to minimize sun damage.”
Sunscreens can be divided into two categories: physical and chemical sunscreens. According to Dr. Iskandar, a physical sunscreen contains elements that reflect and scatter the rays of sun away from your body, while a chemical one contains elements which absorb UV light.
“Most products nowadays contain both physical and chemical elements to protect the skin,” he says. “There are different sunscreens for different types of skins as well. For example, people suffering from acne should use a fluid-like sunblock, while people with dry skin should use cream-based sunscreen.”
When it comes to picking a sunscreen, what is key is the sun protection factor (SPF) number printed on the product. Logically, the higher the number, the more protection it should offer, but how does this number really work?
“Without sunscreen, one's skin can become minimally red within ten minutes,” the doctor explains. “Applying a sunscreen with SPF15 will delay this redness up to 150 minutes.”
According to Dr. Iskandar, an SPF15 sunscreen product provides 93 percent more protection than not using sunscreen at all, while SPF30 sunblock offers 97 percent more protection only, adding just four percent extra to the protection value of the product.
“Western sunscreen products now offer up to SPF50 only,” he says. “Any product with an SPF higher than 50 SPF is branded SPF50+ regardless of how high the concentration of protection elements is.”
Contrary to popular belief, using sunscreen does not prevent you, necessarily, from achieving a tan--and sunscreen is healthier than using tanning oils. Most people use tanning oils in the hope of reducing the duration of the tanning process but Dr. Iskandar compares using tanning oil to using any other kind of oil on your skin. “If you put any kind of oil on already-damaged skin it could harm it more,” he explains.
Finally, in a country like Egypt where the sun shines brightly in the sky most days of the year, sunscreen shouldn't just be confined to the beaches and to swimming pools. “I need to apply sunscreen on a daily basis,” says Mary Wasfy. “I believe it's a serious issue here in Egypt to be under the rays of the sun, so I use sunscreen not only on my face, but on my arms as well to protect them.”
While the debate about whether and to what extent sunscreen can protect your skin from future problems caused by sun exposure, many products are readily available on the market to help protect your skin. New sunscreens use mineral ingredients instead of, or in combination with, chemical ones to prevent potential harm from chemical reactions, and some specialist clothing lines now bear SPF ratings. With a little effort, the enjoyable times we spend on the beach and under the sun shouldn't be regretted later on in life.
Dr. Ramzy Onsy Iskandar's clinic in Downtown: 02 25788137
Dr. Ramzy Onsy Iskandar's clinic in Mohandessin: 02 33455105

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