The eternal summer paradox: we pursue the perfect tan, and end up dotted with sunspots. Here are the tips on how to avoid them.
Sunspots are areas of hyperpigmentation of the epidermis, i.e. the superficial part of the skin, mainly caused by prolonged and unprotected solar exposure. While they are not strictly harmful for our health (they do not progress into malignancy), they are unpleasant blemishes because when they impair the harmony of the face, and they are difficult to erase. They are the epitome of the summer paradox: we pursue the dream of the perfect tan so to be able not to wear makeup, and we end up having to hide under heavy layers of foundation.
Sunspots originate from an inappropriate synthesis and accumulation of melanin. This pigment is unable to distribute itself evenly in all skin areas and thus concentrates in some points, forming these often- accentuated discolorations. Although this group includes several types of hyperpigmentation affecting the face, sunspots are essentially divided into two groups: melasma and solar lentigo.
Melasma preferentially affects women with a dark complexion between the ages of 25 and 40. It presents with brown or gray spots on sun-exposed areas of the face (forehead, upper lip, nose). In the summer, due to greater exposure to solar rays, these spots are enhanced and often converge. Melanin overproduction is triggered by excessive hormonal stimulation: it is often caused by prolonged use of the birth control pill. Similarly, it also affects pregnant women, starting in the fourth or fifth month of gestation; in this case, the condition goes by the name of chloasma. Just like melasma, it is triggered by hormonal factors and made evident by solar exposure.
They are large and irregular spots that appear on the face, shoulders and back from the age of 50-60. While freckles appear on younger faces in the summer months and then disappear, lentigo remains even after the end of the sunny months, and requires long and expensive treatment to be eliminated. Furthermore, compared to freckles, it is an unequivocal sign of aging, and it is often not easy to distinguish it from senility-related age spots.
The best way to avoid sunspots is to protect yourself from the sun.
Good preventive measures from the damage inflicted by the Sun save time, money and emotional stress. Here are the most urgent precautions to be taken, in order of priority.
1. Only expose yourself to the sun before 12:00 and after 16:00.
The sun has a dual personality: it is both generous and merciless. It is important to learn how to exploit its beneficial action and protect yourself from its threats. We know that solar radiation is an important risk factor for melanoma. And that UVA radiation, because it penetrates deep into the skin, causes it to age: they are the cause of wrinkles and sunspots, and reduce skin elasticity. Hence, no excuses: to avoid solar aging, one must limit one’s daily exposure to the sun to two hours, taking care to avoid the most dangerous time, from 12:00 to 16:00.
Let’s be clear: our body cannot live without the sun. It needs it to produce endorphins, which are essential for our emotional health; to cure many dermatoses, such as psoriasis, seborrheic dermatitis and acne; and above all to produce 90% of the vitamin D that we increasingly require, precisely because we live and work indoors. This atypical vitamin (actually a steroid hormone) is a key regulator of calcium and phosphorus metabolism, hence its lack can cause vitamin deficiency and diseases: bone fragility, type 1 diabetes, autoimmune diseases, even cancer.
So let’s remember to guarantee our body its daily required amount of sun, taking care not to exceed two hours of direct exposure and remembering to use all the necessary protections.
2. Shield yourself from the sun by wearing proper clothing and hats.
Protecting yourself from solar radiation by wearing protective clothing remains the first line of defense for your skin. It is no coincidence that the fashion of “solar wear” is on the rise, and garment labels are starting to report indices such as UPF, i.e. their sun protection factor.
A practical and simple recommendation is this: when you are in the sun, try to wear a cotton t-shirt, preferably blue or black. It will heat up sooner than a white t-shirt, but this is because it absorbs radiation more effectively, thus prevent it from spreading to the skin. It can also be useful to keep the shirt on when you go in the water, maybe even wearing a hat. This nod to the burkini is actually a healthy precaution: water reflects radiation and increases its intensity. Too bad, however, that the UPF of a wet t-shirt is halved.
When it comes to hats, it is better to opt for a wide-brimmed hat rather than the usual cap, which leaves the ears and neck uncovered. Sunglasses are also very important, especially wraparound models. And if you find going to the beach fully clothed unconvincing, you can always resort to the oldest sunscreen in the world: the shade of an umbrella or a canopy.
3. Choose an appropriate SPF for your skin.
The sun protection factor of a sun cream or spray indicates its ability to block run sun rays. The right SPF for you depends on your skin type. Those with a Caucasian phototype (pale complexion, reddish hair) may need very high protection (SPF = 50+), while those with dark or black complexions can use the lowest protection factor (SPF = 6).
Unfortunately, such a calculation cannot be mathematical, because SPF indicates the protection against UBV rays. There is no index for the degree of protection from UVA rays, which as we well know are the cause of sunspots. Nowadays, however, almost all products are broad-spectrum, and as such protect against all solar radiation. To get it right, just use common sense: during the first days at the seaside, use a very high SPF sunscreen; once your tan has developed, gradually reduce the protection factor until it reaches the appropriate for your phototype.
Remember to apply sunscreen at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun, and subsequently at least every two hours. And, of course, after every swim.
4. Prepare your skin for tanning with supplements and a proper diet.
To prepare the skin for optimal response to solar radiation, you can also take food supplements. In particular, to prevent the appearance of sunspots, choose flavonoid-based supplements such as resveratrol, lutein and lycopene, which are all antioxidant and anti-aging. To optimize the beneficial effect of the sun’s rays, you can use supplements based on tyrosine and B-carotenoids, which help activate melanin and enhance the skin’s natural protective mechanisms. All these supplements are available in capsule or tablet form, and it would be helpful to start taking them at least two weeks before going on vacation.
Your diet is also useful for preparing the skin for tanning. Green, yellow, red and orange vegetables (carrots, spinach, lettuce, chicory, radicchio, peppers, tomatoes, strawberries, cherries and apricots), walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts are especially precious allies. And do not forget to always drink plenty of water: the rule of thumb to keep your skin healthy and well hydrated.