Les actifs essentiels de votre santé

Now that the sun is here, how can you protect the whole family?

We cannot live without the sun.

Sun is a vital need for living beings. Sunlight synchronises our body clock and regulates our hormone production, sleep and moods. Who has never fallen victim to the famous winter blues which quickly disappear as the days gets warmer? The sun’s UV rays (ultra-violet) are also needed for the synthesis of vitamin D by the skin. Essential to our body, it helps to provide our bones with calcium and activate our immune system.

 

But the sun also has harmful short and long-term effects on our skin.

Type B UV radiation (UVB) penetrates the superficial layers of the skin (epidermis) but only 10% reaches the deep layers of the skin (dermis). When UVB radiation enters the cells, it damages them and causes an inflammatory reaction (dilation of the blood vessels and reddening of the skin), more commonly called “sunburn”. UVB radiation also damages the structure of DNA which eventually leads to the accumulation of mutations which can result in skin cancer. Type A UV radiation (UVA), on the other hand, deeply penetrates the skin and causes damage to both the dermis and epidermis. It is responsible for oxidative stress, that is, the formation of excess free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that attack DNA, change the way cells function or kill them. In the short term, this can lead to sun allergies (benign summer light eruption) and, in the longer term, to the appearance of skin cancer. Free radicals are also responsible for accelerated ageing of the skin: reduction in collagen and elastin production, finer and drier skin, brown spots and deeper wrinkles.

 

How can the skin combat UV radiation?

The skin’s cells have a certain number of defence mechanisms against UV radiation. The melanocytes, which are specialised epidermal cells, produce a brownish-black pigment called melanin, in reaction to UV exposure. These pigments gradually permeate the neighbouring cells and darken the epidermis (tanning). By forming a cap over the cell nucleus, melanin absorbs some of the UVB rays to protect DNA but this type of defence is somewhat limited and quickly becomes insufficient. To combat free radicals released by UVA radiation, the cells have an array of molecules capable of neutralising their damaging effects: certain enzymes produced by our cells (superoxide dismutase, glutathione, peroxidase, etc.) as well as antioxidants such as vitamins C and E, trace elements (zinc and selenium), carotenoids (beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein) and polyphenols.

 

How can we protect ourselves from the damaging effects of UV radiation?

With warmer weather on the way, we can look forward to lazing in the sun with a good book, playing soccer in the garden or going for a bike ride but not without the right protection. Using a sunscreen (photoprotection) must be the first reflex but there are other precautions to be taken: Avoid exposure between midday and 4 pm, wear tightly-woven clothing, a hat with a wide brim and glasses with UV protection in addition to a high protection sunscreen (SPF 50/50+) which should be reapplied every 2 hours and after bathing and playing sport (perspiration). But sunscreens only protect partially from UVA radiation. To prevent the harmful action of free radicals and accelerated skin ageing, we must look after our internal photoprotection by making sure we get enough antioxidants. However, our current diet is often deficient in antioxidant micronutrients (only 1 adult in 4 eats at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day1). Taking an antioxidant-rich nutritional supplement (beta-carotene, vitamins C and E, zinc, selenium) either during or after prolonged exposure to the sun, can prove useful for limiting the amount of oxidative stress produced by UV radiation*.

*Does not replace a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

 

Focus on Children

Children are particularly vulnerable when it comes to the sun. Their skin is finer and more sensitive and their natural defences are not fully operational. It is estimated that 80% of sun-related skin damage is caused during childhood and that sunburn before the age of twenty considerably increases the risk of skin cancer as an adult. Yet children spend an average of 55 days a year in the sun1 particularly during the summer holidays and it is often difficult to provide effective sun protection. Even if parents know the recommendations, only 70% say that they reapply sunscreen to their children’s skin at least every two hours2. Also, it is sometimes difficult to follow these recommendations, particularly when children are under the care of adults other than parents (day care centre, grandparents) or when exposure to the sun is less obvious (in the garden, in the mountains, when playing sport). In addition to external protection recommendations, internal protection should therefore not be ignored in children. Their intake of antioxidant fruits and vegetables is often highly insufficient: only 6% of children eat at least 5 fruits and vegetables a day and 45% eat less than two a day1. To combat oxidative stress produced by the sun (internal photoprotection), a nutritional supplement can therefore be envisaged*.

1 CREDOC study (2017) Fruits et légumes: les Français suivent de moins en moins la recommandation.

2 Evolution des mesures de protection solaire pour les enfants (2015). Study by Lebbe C et al.

*Does not replace a well-balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.

 

Recommendations for children

*Babies must never be exposed directly to the sun. For children, limit exposure time, and avoid exposure between midday and 4 pm insofar as possible.

*Whatever the time and place of exposure, children must wear a hat and sun glasses with a UV filter. Covering clothing also offers good protection from UV radiation.

*Complete these recommendations with the use of a sunscreen with a high protection factor (SPF 50/50+). It must be applied and reapplied every 2 hours and after swimming and water play.

 

 

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