Sun Or Stress – Which is worse for our skin? Dr Ian Tan, IDS medical professional shares his insights on the harmful effects of city living.
What does it mean to live in sunny Singapore where the sun shines 365 days a year? Its proximity to the equator puts the sun directly overhead most of the year. What does this means? As a result, we receive more direct sunlight which passes through less atmosphere, which also means less UV radiation gets filtered and absorbed. According to data from National Environment Agency (NEA), Singapore experiences high levels of UV radiation year round, averaging six to nine on the daily maximum UV Index. On top of that, if you work in a fast-paced environment like Singapore, it often means long working hours, having to grapple with bills to pay, deadlines to meet, frustrations or anxiety with people, as well as juggling the demands of work and family. You can already guess who are the skin’s two greatest enemies.
The Sun – Love It, Hate It
The sun is like a double-edged sword, it is the source of energy for all life forms on earth. However, its ultraviolet (UV) radiation also causes free-radical damage targeting cell membranes, proteins and DNA. This causes premature aging, pigmentation and even increased risk of skin cancer.
What Stress Does To You
Stress on the other hand, can aggravate existing skin conditions and cause flare ups. For example, stress can worsen psoriasis, rosacea, acne and eczema. Have you ever noticed that you break out more when you’re under a lot of stress? Stress causes a chemical response in your body that makes skin more sensitive and reactive. It can also make it harder for skin problems to heal. This is because the cortisol or “stress hormone” is produced in the adrenal glands when you’re under stress. But when the cortisol level goes up, it can cause a lot of havoc to your skin, thereby prompting your skin to produce excess sebum, which in turn lead to oil clogging the pores, acne and other inflammatory problems.
When you’re stressed, you would probably cut back on your daily skincare regime, resulting in neglect. Skipping serums and creams is one thing, but don’t commit the beauty crime of leaving dirt, grime and makeup on overnight. You should at least cleanse your face every day.
There is no lesser of the two evils here. What matters is how you manage stress vs the sun. Personally, I find sun protection and ensuring ample sunscreen is applied a much easier task than stress management. With UV rays, it is as simple as applying sunblock to protect the skin, but there is no topical cream to help block out stress.
How To Stay Sun Safe
1. Avoid These Times
The best recommendation to combat the sun is to stay out of it. Mid-day sun (10am to 3pm) yields the highest UV levels. Avoid going outdoors at this time if possible, or use a sunscreen, carry an umbrella, wear a visor and sunglasses to block out UVA and UVB rays. However, staying indoors don’t necessarily mean you’re 100% safe as UVA rays can penetrate through windows in homes, offices and cars.
2. Apply The Right Amount
Choose sunscreen products with higher SPF ratings (at least SPF 30) as it translates to greater protection from UVB rays (prevents burning). But note that the SPF rating does not protect from UVA rays, which are linked to premature aging. For this, look out for PA+++ (protection grade of UVA rays).
When determining the sunscreen protection factor (SPF), a predetermined quantity of 2 mg/cm2 is applied, but many studies have shown that in real life, most people apply only 20% to 60% of this amount, or the amount of sunscreen needed to achieve the stated sun protection factor (SPF) rating of their applied product. At least half a tea spoon of sunscreen should be applied for the face alone. If this sounds like a lot at one go, apply one layer then reapply until the amount is finished. As a guide, re-apply sunscreen every two hours, and especially under extended exposure or after perspiration.
How To Combat Stress
There are plenty of ways to deal with the harmful effects of stress. My personal recommendation is physical exercise, which not only releases the feel-good chemicals in the body called endorphins, but it also helps use up excess cortisol and adrenaline. It may sound oxymoronic, but when you’re stressed, try to get plenty of sleep, eat regular, balanced meals and continue to keep up on your social connections — something that people tend to forget in times of stress.
Dr Ian Tan, Medical Professional at IDS Clinic