Protecting your skin during the summer
Including sunscreen in your daily routine is one of the simplest and most effective ways you can protect your skin from sun damage. (Photos: Pexels)

IT'S summertime, and while Jamaica boasts a warm and sunny climate all year round, our summers are characterised by longer, hotter days with much more sunshine. While exposure to the sun has great health benefits such as absorbing vitamin D and possible boosts in your mood when you may feel down mentally, overexposure to the sun can cause irreversible skin damage.

There is a common misconception that those with darker complexions may not need to take any extra precautions to protect from the sun, as the melanin in their skin naturally does this. While melanin does offer natural protection and preparation from the sun, too much exposure to the sun's rays can become harmful even for melanated skin. It is crucial to ensure that you regulate your sun exposure and take care of your skin, all year round while living in Jamaica, but especially during these hotter summer months. Here are a few tips to protect your skin from the sun.

1) Wear sunscreen

Including sunscreen in your daily routine is one of the simplest and most effective ways you can protect your skin from sun damage. The best type of sunscreen to use is a "broad spectrum" one. This means that it helps protect your skin against both UVA and UVB rays from the sun. Additionally, a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher offers the most protection for harsh sun conditions. Ensure that you properly apply the sunscreen to all areas of your skin that will be exposed to the sun. This includes your face, neck, ears, hands and even the top of your feet if you're wearing open-toed shoes. While women are more likely than men to have a skincare routine, it is important for both men and women to follow these tips to protect their skin. However, protecting your skin from the sun does not solely start and end with sunscreen application.

2) Dress & accessorise for the sun

It's important that you wear clothes that may protect your skin from the sun. Covering up your skin in long pants and long-sleeved shirts may be uncomfortable in hotter climates, however, finding a breathable, lightweight material (such as cotton and linen) may make this more comfortable. Additionally, wearing hats with at least a 2 or 3-inch brim that covers your face from the sun and sunglasses that offer UV protection to your eyes are also good ways of protecting you from the harmful effects of sun exposure.

3) Limit your sun exposure between 10 am and 4 pm

During the hours of 10 am to 4 pm, the sun's rays are most intense, particularly at midday and 1 pm. It is important if you have to be in the sun, to try and do so outside of these hours or at the very least, limit your exposure during these hours as best as you can. If your work, for example, does not allow you to avoid being in the sun at this time, following all the other tips mentioned may still be extremely helpful in limiting sun damage to your skin.

4) Take care of your skin after sun exposure

Sunburn and other types of sun damage can be extremely uncomfortable. Particularly for those with darker complexions, sun damage may look like differences in pigmentation (colours on your skin often in patches). This may be seen in areas that have already experienced some form of irritation such as from acne, eczema, allergies and scars. It is crucial to take care of your skin after facing sun damage. This may include using a cooling gel (such as aloe vera) and ensuring you keep the damaged skin moisturised. However, if none of these methods is offering you any relief and/or you want further advice, you may reach out to your doctor via telemedicine to receive guidance for treating your sun damage. If the side effects are particularly bad, you may get a prescription for a treatment cream or gel from your doctor via the telemedicine platform from the comfort and convenience of your home.

5) Check your skin often

It's important that you pay attention to your skin and take notice of any changes that may occur. This is especially important if you spend much of your time in the sun (for work or leisure) or live in a tropical climate that experiences particularly sunny weather. A great habit to take up is performing self-examinations every month or so to see if you notice anything that may be unusual. This may include: new spots on your skin, significant changes to existing spots and/or anything that you think looks unusual.

Melanoma, also known as skin cancer, can present itself as a small spot that may seem innocent. Reach out to your doctor via telemedicine and send photos of any spots, rashes or concerning marks on your skin which may be caused or made worse by increased sun exposure. If you aren't sure if what you are seeing should be a cause for concern or not, telemedicine is a convenient first step. Your doctor can analyse these photos and videos of your skin to decide if an in-person physical examination would be the next step or if you shouldn't worry and can be treated by a prescription, over-the-counter treatment or even a natural remedy.

Although it is less likely for those with darker complexions to develop skin cancer, you are not entirely immune to it. Especially if you do experience prolonged sun exposure, you should keep a lookout for these kinds of changes on your skin. Taking full advantage of telemedicine services may also simply include you discussing with your doctor what your risks may be and how you can best protect yourself from sun damage and further disease to your skin.

Advanced telemedicine platforms such as MDLink offer teledermatology — online health care for skin conditions. What this means is, you will have 24/7 access to a dermatologist online, no matter where you are, via text, audio or video consultations. Other skin conditions that may be treated by these specialists through teledermatology include acne, eczema and atopic dermatitis. Telemedicine is always a safe and convenient first step for any form of medical treatment and dermatology is no exception.

Dr Ché Bowen, a digital health entrepreneur and family physician, is the CEO & founder of MDLink, a digital health company that provides telemedicine options. Check out the company's website at www.theMDLink.com. You can also contact him at drchebowen@themdlink.com.

Melanoma, also known as skin cancer, can present itself as a small spot that may seem innocent.
Dr Ché Bowen

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