Planning on going down to the pool for a tan? You might want to rethink that.

Durban - What’s better than sun-kissed skin, sundowners with friends at your favourite spot out in the sun, or that beautiful afternoon tan with family and a game of volleyball on the beach?

Well, for many people a lot of things might be better, but for me there aren’t. Anyone who knows me appreciates I am a sun-worshipper and never miss an opportunity to tan.

Two weeks ago, though, I headed down to the beachfront with my family and, after two hours of relaxing in the sun, I was left with terrible burns on my skin – something that has never happened before. The burns lasted for about a week, leaving my skin feeling dry and irritated. Even once the burnt skin peeled off, the damage was evident.

So I decided to seek professional help. I contacted Professor Ncoza Dlova, the head of UKZN’s Department of Dermatology and chief specialist, and asked her whether my obsession with tanning was a healthy one and for some advice on keeping skin healthy and burn-free this summer.

With spring upon us and summer just around the corner, how should we be taking care of our skin, apart from applying sunscreen?

Avoid the sun and the beach between 11am and 3pm. A simple trick is to look at your shadow: if you find that your shadow is shorter than your actual height, that’s an indication for you to stay out of the sun or use protection in the form of protective clothing, such as long-sleeved clothing and a broad-brimmed hat. And use an umbrella if you have to be outdoors.

What is your how-to guide on protecting your skin during summer and making sure it looks good?

It’s simple: try to avoid the sun as much as possible and say no to suntan booths at your beauty salon. In summer the skin tends to be sticky and oily, particularly in our humid Durban weather, so try use lighter moisturisers in the form of lotions rather than ointments or creams.

Reapply your sunscreen as it tends to wear off with sweating. Choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection, and apply enough sunscreen for it to be effective – the size of a teaspoon for your face.

Choose brands that keep up with science and research. These tend to be photostable, will not leave a thick residue, are easily absorbed and will not leave a greyish hue on your skin.

In my case, where my skin has been burnt, how should I treat it and avoid getting burnt again?

You shouldn’t have been tanning in the first place. Pale skin is healthy skin. If you don’t like the look, I suggest you use suntan lotions.

If you have fair skin or freckles, or albinism, you have the most sensitive skin and you should stay away from the sun. If you get burnt, you should use good moisturisers to soothe the skin and also see your dermatologist, who will prescribe topical steroids to treat the sun-induced inflammation of the skin.

Melanin is good for the skin; do not use skin lighteners to remove your natural protective layer.

The sun seems to be more damaging as the years go by – are there any new products or methods that will help?

Most new sunscreens have broader sun protection, which is aimed at UVB and UVA. In addition, some of them have antioxidants, which help repair the DNA damage within the cells that is caused by UV-induced oxidation.

What is your overall advice regarding skin care?

You have to understand what skin type you have – oily, dry or combination. Try to use products appropriate for your skin type. Sun avoidance and sun protection breed healthy skin, which ages slower, is free from cancer and has less pigmentation.

Sunday Tribune