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When it comes to shielding ourselves from the sun, nobody does it better than Asians.
Gearing up for summertime means layering on UV protection—and if you live in Asia, you know we’re talking about way more than just a light slathering of sunscreen. From everyday umbrellas and giant face visors to high-tech beauty products and kinda weird outliers like facekinis—those beach balaclavas that have become popular over the past few years at some seaside resorts—it seems like we’ve pretty much got sun protection down pat. Or do we? As our climate and environment continue to change and new innovations hit the market, Tatler speaks with skincare experts on what everyone should know about protecting the skin they’re in.
Different skin types can react differently to sun exposure, and doctors and scientists have found that Asians tend to have a thinner stratum corneum, which acts as the skin’s protective outer barrier. This is why “Asian skin is known to scar more easily,” says Jenelle Kim, doctor of Chinese medicine and founder of JBK Wellness Labs. “Asian skin can be more vulnerable and also harder to heal.”One of the biggest issues that disproportionately affects Asian skin types is hyperpigmentation— dark spots and melasma that can be triggered or exacerbated by sun exposure. “Some of the biggest concerns about sun exposure are focused primarily on concerns about sun-related pigmentation and sunburns,” says Erum Ilyas, a US-based dermatologist and the CEO and founder of Montgomery Dermatology.
“This can take the form of melasma, uneven hyperpigmentation, sunspots or lentigines, and the risk of skin cancer. A condition called polymorphous light eruption can also occur—this is a hypersensitivity to the sun on areas of the skin not routinely exposed to sun year-round, such as forearms and chest, and can appear as rashes that are itchy and, at times, hives-like.”According to Ilyas, the best way to combat sun damage is through planning and prevention. Read beauty product ingredient lists and look for physical sunblocks—especially if you’re planning on being outdoors for extended periods of time.
“Look for zinc and titanium as the active ingredients,” she says. “These ingredients block UVA and UVB effectively and safely. The problem with chemical sunscreens is that they absorb UV. Once they hit their maximal absorption, the rest overflows to the skin—this can result in a sunburn or discoloration. Zinc and titanium are physical sunblocks—they physically block UV from hitting the skin.”
What about fun accessories like hats, visors, gloves and sporty SPF apparel? “Using protective wear, such as hats and visors, can be very beneficial,” Kim says. But she cautions sun-avoiders to remember that a little bit of sunshine can be good for you, too. “I also believe that it’s important to have a balance in the sense that the sun also offers benefits such as Vitamin D, which is important for overall health.”
Here’s some expert advice on how to choose sun care products:
“A hat with at least an 8cm brim all around has been shown to provide protection to the face and neck,” Erum Ilyas says. “Check the label of the hat to make sure it has been tested for UV protection. A straw hat loosely woven may not block the sun as effectively as one made with textiles that are woven tightly.”
“Ocular melanoma does occur and protecting the eyes from UV exposure is important. Verify the sunglasses block UVA and UVB— there’s usually a decal on the lens that indicates this.”
“Umbrellas only focus on UV blockage from direct sun exposure. Studies have shown that they miss as much as 30 to 35 per cent of UV that is reflected from surroundings. They can also give a false sense of security while out in the sun.”
“Visors are almost like wearing one large pair of sunglasses over the face. The angle is great as it can help prevent peripheral UV exposure. The only issue is the lack of UV protection on the scalp. That said, these visors are going to grow in popularity for their dual effect of blocking UV rays and shielding from viral spread.”
A woman wears a facekini as she poses in the Yellow Sea near Qingdao, China (Photo: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)
“Facekinis are perhaps the only way to physically block UV that does not wear off and does not run the risk of peripheral UV exposure. The challenges with these garments are the breathability, thermoregulation and the inability to wear make-up. Sunblocks work well when worn routinely and reapplied when needed—I’m not certain that it’s necessary to resort to a facekini.”
“Protective clothing is, in my opinion, the most important aspect of a sun-safety plan. Clothing is rated by the UPF, which shows its ability to block both UVA and UVB. In studies, a white T-shirt has been shown to only block 50 to 75 per cent of UV, so it’s important to check the label to verify that sun protective clothing has been tested. Integrating sun-safe clothing into your wardrobe reduces the amount of sunscreen that needs to be worn. This also helps reduce the impact sunscreen products have on the environment when they end up in waterways and affect aquatic life.”