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Your Skin and the Sun - How can you protect your skin

Summer is approaching fast, longed for after the winter months. When we see the sun we start to behave as if we got an extra boost of energy, we smile more often, we spend more time outdoors.

There is no doubt that the sun has a beneficial effect on our body. The radiation emitted by the sun stimulates the production of Vitamin D and helps to maintain adequate levels in the body (although additional Vitamin D supplementation is recommended throughout the year). Generally speaking, the sun has a beneficial effect on the human psyche.

The warmth we feel outside invites us to expose ourselves to the sun, to "bathe in it" sometimes without restraint. But we should not forget the negative effects of being in the sun.

There is no doubt that prolonged exposure to sunlight can cause skin disorders. Besides the positive effects I mentioned above, it is difficult to point out other health benefits that are associated with the sun.

Who is most at risk for sun-related disorders?

People who work outdoors, sunbathers, and outdoor sports enthusiasts who don't pay attention to the use of sunscreen or who consciously avoid it.

What is Fitzpatrick’s skin type classification?

Do you know what Fitzpatrick's skin type classification is? You may have heard of it. It was developed based on sensitivity to sunlight. By the amount of melanin in the skin and the type of melanin in the skin, we can distinguish several skin types.

There are two types of melanin in the human skin: eumelanin and pheomelanin. What is the difference between them?

Eumelanin is responsible for the brownish shade of the skin and its amount is higher in people with darker complexions. Eumelanin provides excellent protection from the sun by travelling to the top part of the cell and protecting the cell nucleus which contains the DNA. Melanin, the pigment of the skin, protects the cell's DNA from attack by free radicals created by UV radiation, thus preventing DNA damage that can lead to skin cancer.

On the other hand, in fair-skinned redheads, the main type of melanin is pheomelanin (a more reddish substance than the brown eumelanin). High content of pheomelanin is responsible for the pink/orange skin tone and red hair of people with very light skin.

Unfortunately, pheomelanin does not protect DNA from damage caused by sunlight. This means that these people are at greater risk of skin cancer, wrinkles and freckles.

Six types of skin according to Fitzpatrick’s skin type classification

In Fitzpatrick's classification, there are 6 types of skin:

  • Type I - always easily sunburned, never tans and very sensitive to the sun (red hair, freckles, fair complexion)

  • Type II - always burns easily, tans only minimally, very sensitive to the sun (fair complexion, blue eyes, fair hair, Caucasian)

  • Type III - burns occasionally, tans gradually to light brown, skin sensitive to the sun (mixed skin colour)

  • Type IV - tends to be minimally sunburned, always tends to tan to a medium brown, minimal sensitivity to the sun (European descent)

  • Type V - rarely burns, tans easily, skin not sensitive to the sun (Middle Easterners, Hispanics, some Blacks)

  • Type VI - never burns, lots of pigment, skin not sensitive to the sun (Black people)

Thanks to Fitzpatrick's classification, you can see which type you are and what measures you can take to protect your health. A higher skin type number indicates easier tanning and better preparation of the skin to minimize sun damage.

What happens to the skin when it is exposed to the sun for a long time? If the skin is exposed to the sun long enough for sun damage to occur, it can lead to the development of diseases (more or less serious). UV light causes both acute and chronic skin changes.

How can your skin react to being exposed to the sun?


The most common acute lesion is sunburn. It is easy to recognize. First, there is the erythema (or redness), sometimes accompanied by swelling, blisters and pain. The severity of the sunburn is proportional to the amount (dose) of solar radiation that was absorbed by the skin.

It occurs most often on the face since it receives most of the sun's radiation (e.g. on the hands, redness only appears when you receive four times the dose of radiation as on the head). However, a burn can occur on any part of the body, depending on what is most exposed to the sun.

A burn is an acute inflammatory reaction in the skin. It is difficult to say exactly how long it takes for a sunburn to occur, as it depends on the type of skin. Many fair-skinned people get sunburn after only 15 to 30 minutes of sunbathing, while darker-skinned people can get sunburn after an hour or two.

However, it occurs shortly after sun exposure and is accompanied by the usual signs. You can relieve the pain by applying cold compresses of skimmed milk, applying creams with soothing properties, which are available in pharmacies, sometimes anti-inflammatory drugs can help to reduce inflammation (you can always ask for advice at a pharmacy, don't decide on the drugs yourself).

The most important thing to remember is that sunburn causes permanent damage to the skin that can take up to 20 years to appear. Therefore, it should be avoided at all costs.

Sun allergies

Another condition caused by the sun is sun allergies (PMLE - polymorphous light eruption).

These are patches that appear on skin exposed to UV light and take many different shapes. The rash can take the form of nodules, blisters or itchy urticaria. It usually appears in the first weeks of summer on exposed parts of the body. A rash means your skin is unable to adequately protect itself from the sun, and if you're experiencing this condition, you should avoid the sun as much as possible.

Phototoxic reactions, certain medications, and skin diseases can increase the risk of sunburn, or photo responsiveness. Under the influence of sunlight, the skin is damaged faster than usual (e.g. in people with fair skin). Medications that make you more sensitive to the sun include acne treatments.

Medical products that cause photosensitivity should always be labelled with a sunscreen sticker or notice that you should avoid the sun while using it. Be sure to read the label or ask your pharmacist.

Sun urticaria

Sun urticaria is a rare sign of photosensitivity. The first sign, which appears immediately after exposure to the sun, is erythema, hives and a burning sensation. It can occur all over the body or only on skin exposed to the sun. The characteristic feature of urticaria is the immediate onset of erythema and hives.

How to protect your skin from the sun?

After sun exposure, remember about proper after-sun care in the form of soothing, calming and regenerating products. Check the composition of cosmetics, they should contain Vitamin E, D-panthenol, aloe vera extract, urea, allantoin, glycerin - as gels, lotions, body lotions. Hyaluronic acid, coenzyme Q10, vitamin C, E and A (cream or serum), which will mitigate the negative effects of UV radiation on the facial skin.

Exposure to excessive doses of sunlight, in addition to the above reactions, also causes premature skin ageing (manifested by deep wrinkles and furrows, as well as a network of fine lines) sagging of the skin, telangiectasias, elastosis (i.e. dirtiness of the skin surface, so-called farmer's skin), age spots (lentigines, freckles), solar keratosis (a precancerous condition), lymototic warts.

Chronic sun-induced disorders are those that result from long-term exposure to UV rays, or those that appear after many years of sun exposure. We divide them into cancerous and non-cancerous lesions. Cancerous lesions are divided into melanoma and non-melanoma (I will write about this another time).

Remember, if you have a lesion on your skin that doesn't heal for more than 6 weeks, you need to see a doctor immediately. Regularly check all your moles and lesions for changes in size, shape, or colour. React to new lesions appearing very quickly, observe them. Check them with your doctor, who thanks to a device can determine whether the change is safe or not. Often your quick reaction and follow-up with your doctor can save your life.

Final words

It is worth knowing and learning how the sun affects the skin. Most skin damage can be prevented just by your knowledge and quick reaction.

We need the sun, it makes us grow, keeps us in good shape, often also mentally.

However, moderation is very important in the use of the sun, you must always remember that overdoing it, not protecting your skin with creams, not covering your face, etc. can have a bad outcome.

Besides, this not only applies to the sun but also excessive use of solariums.

So let's enjoy the sun, but with a sensible approach :)

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