Sunny with a chance of skin cancer

Our beautiful country is blessed with sunshine all year round but sometimes, it can be a little too much and cause some issues

Sunshine is a great source of Vitamin D as long as your exposure is before noon. In Malaysia, we have sunshine all day, every day and most of us take it for granted, complaining about the heat and how uncomfortable it feels. Sunlight is a natural disinfectant as well due to the UV rays.

However, there are disadvantages that come from overexposure to sunlight such as sun damage which could lead to skin cancer.

We speak to pharmacist Chock Ker Chea from Friend’s Pharmacy on why we should pay attention to how we take care of ourselves when it comes to sun exposure.

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1Twenty80: How do you think Malaysians approach sun protection?

Chock Ker Chea: Malaysians, especially men, don’t really care much about sun protection unless they are going for long hours of outdoor activities such as to play golf or beach activities. For Malaysian women however, most make-up ingredients contain sunblock with low SPF and they think it is sufficient even though it most certainly isn’t. Due to the humidity of our country, Malaysians find that sunblock feels sticky, hence, they are quite reluctant to use it.

It’s important to protect our skin from UV rays. I would suggest for all of us to protect our skin both externally and internally. 

1twenty80: Why is it important for us to protect our skin against sun damage?

Chock: Firstly, conventional ways to protect ourselves against the sun’s harmful rays include wearing sunglasses, using an umbrella when you go out and applying sunblock.

Secondly, UV rays are generally categorised into UVA, UVB and UVC rays.

  • UVA penetrates into the second layer of skin, causes wrinkles and premature ageing.
  • UVB affects the top layer of the skin which can lead to sunburn. It is linked to skin cancer by damaging the DNA in the skin. 
  • UVC is found in man-made sources of radiation like mercury lamps and welding torches.

1Twenty80: What are the complications of sun damage besides sunburn?

Chock: Skin cancers are uncontrolled growths of skin with the presence of abnormal (malignant) skin cells. The risk factors include overexposure to UV light, genetic predisposition, exposure to heavy metal and radiation. Unlike other cancers, skin cancer has received little awareness in Malaysia, among the public. In a report published 10 years ago, skin cancer ranked 10th as the most common cancer in Malaysia, and accounted for 2.6 percent of all cancer cases in the country!

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1Twenty80: Is it possible to protect against sun damage with our diet?

Chock: Yes. For instance, blueberries, pomegranate, tomatoes, carrots, watermelon and green leafy vegetables like spinach could help in boosting your skin’s defense against sun damage.

Because UVA rays can pass through glass, it’s important to wear sunscreen no matter if you are indoors or outdoors.

1twenty80: What are the nutrients to look for that can help boost our skin’s ability to protect itself against sun damage?

Chock: Lycopene, Omega 3s, healthy sources of saturated fats and monounsaturated fats. Lycopene is found in red-coloured fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, watermelon, papaya, red grapefruit, and guava. Tomatoes are one of the best sources for lycopene. Its powerful antioxidant properties are able to defend our skin against UV radiation. It helps to keep our skin looking young too.

1Twenty80: Are there supplements on the market that can boost our skin’s health and also ability to deflect sun damage?

Chock: Most definitely! There are plenty of supplements in the market that contain Omega 3 and a few brands with tomato extracts.

1Twenty80: On the other hand, if we don’t get enough sunshine due to avoiding the sun too much, are there any negative effects?

Chock: Sunlight is needed in minimal amounts to help our skin make vitamin D, which is vital for normal bone function and health.

1Twenty80: Besides supplements, a diet filled with antioxidants and avoiding harsh sun exposure, how important is the use of sunscreen?

Chock: Because UVA rays can pass through glass, it’s important to wear sunscreen no matter if you are indoors or outdoors. Sitting next to a window, or driving in a car, you are exposing yourself to UV rays and their eventual harmful effects. Thus, it is essential to add sunscreen to your daily routine.

1Twenty80: What is your advice to our readers when it comes to sun protection and its importance?

Chock: It’s important to protect our skin from UV rays. I would suggest for all of us to protect our skin both externally and internally. Especially for people who need to be exposed under the sun for long hours such as those doing outdoor jobs. Externally, we can apply sunblock with SPF 50 and above while internally, we can consume more fruits and vegetables or supplements that contain tomato extract also known as lycopene. These are not only for beauty purposes but for healthier and younger looking skin! 

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