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Here comes the Sun
Text by Geeta Rao
Published: Volume 15, Issue 5, May, 2007

A good sunscreen can spell the difference between damaged, lifeless skin and a healthy glow. Geeta Rao screen tests the beauty market to prepare your dermis for the worst of summer

Recently on a short visit to Hyderabad I was escorted to its glitzy new strip - HITEC City - which was impressive and typically, all glass, steel and chrome. But there were no trees to offer any shade. I shudder to think of the countless young women walking in to work at 40 degrees in the blazing sun and then immediately going into freezing cold air-conditioned environments and the havoc this wreaks on their skins. It is the story of countless hi-tech cities and business centres around India. Natural shade and cover have been removed leaving us all exposed to more sun damage than earlier and the atria-like interiors let a lot more sun filter in. Plus, it isn't fashionable to carry umbrellas, otherwise a rather effective form of complexion protection.

In Burma I noticed women and children never venture out without slapping on their faces, the white paste of a local tree bark, known for its healing and cooling properties. Having suffered a heat stroke and sunburn in the searing Myanmar sun despite sunscreen, I was willing to go around with the local white mask on my face without any heed to style or fashion. Though it wasn't Burma but Cannes that proved to me that the sun could be more cruel than kind. It felt funny that the Côte d'azur should prove too much for my Indian skin but the sun was hot and I was out in it longer than usual. Soon I was diving into the nearest pharmacy for some high-end sunscreen. I think it was Vichy or Bio thermal that saved my skin. One of the things I discovered after talking to the dermatologist back home was that as you get older your skin can get more photosensitive. Also that the global sunscreen we have is thinning and holes in the ozone layer cause all sorts of things to filter through.

Considering the pollution you may be more vulnerable than you think. Look around and you will see much more pigmentation, sunspots and that lifeless, leathery look that sun-damaged skin develops. It isn't only a cosmetic concern but a therapeutic one. Men have it better because their skin texture is slightly different. Fairer, thinner skin is more vulnerable than darker, thicker skin but I think we all need to reach out for a bottle of sunscreen this summer. What is the truth about sunscreen? Is it really effective? Despite being a hot country and the fact that we are inured to the sun, it is advisable to wear a good sunscreen when going out in the sun. But here's the rub. You have to use it right for it to be effective. You need to put it on in generous quantities half an hour before you go out. This is a critical point missed by many. Unless absorbed, it will not work. The right amount is the size of a one rupee coin, supplied an expert from Kaya Skin Clinic, at a talk I attended.

SPF is another grey area as far as sunscreen use is concerned. It is an indicator of how long the sunscreen works with prolonged exposure to the sun. This is a multiple of ten of the figure indicated so an SPF of 15 means the sunscreen will be effective for 150 minutes of exposure, which is a fair amount of time. But in an ideal world it should be replenished after this. Remember that SPF is not an indicator of protection against UVA rays which are as damaging as UVB so you need to read the labels very carefully before getting your sunscreen. Look for a broad spectrum sunscreen (the label will use the term specifically) or look for one that says it works on both UVA and UVB. You may have defeated the purpose of slathering stuff on your face otherwise. Sunscreen should become part of your daily regimen and can work as a base for make-up.