Time Out's guide to sun protection

Living in KL means almost constant exposure to the sun. Find out how to enjoy the conditions without damaging your health

Photo: Jacob Ammentorp Lund/Stock Photo

A combination of strong sun, high temperatures and humidity puts your skin at a higher risk,’ says Samar Maatouk, a cosmetic skincare specialist. 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 overexposure. ‘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.’

Sun cream 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…

Beware of both 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, meaning you’re protected for longer.

Wear higher SPF for longer protection
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 sun cream 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.

Sunblock for kids
Outdoor play should be limited to early mornings and late afternoons only. The sun’s rays are at their strongest between 10am and 5pm – so avoid these hours. Some surfaces such as cement, sand and water reflect the sun’s rays and increase the risk of sunburn too. Grassy, shaded areas are therefore safer. It’s not the heat that causes sunburn either, but the UV light, so your baby may get burnt even if the weather is cloudy. UV light can damage the skin at any time of the year. But always take precautions, because sunburn is not immediately obvious and may not appear for a few hours.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has advised that it is okay to use a little sunscreen on babies less than six months old. Choose a brand that is baby-safe (ask your pharmacist to recommend one). However, the first defence against the sun should be keeping babies shaded and covered up, rather than slathering sun cream over them. Sun block for older kids needs to be applied around 30 minutes before you go outside, and then needs to be re-applied every two hours, or after swimming, towelling and perspiration. Make sure the sunscreen is fresh too, because if it’s old, it will lose its effectiveness.