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Is the sun aggravating your rosacea?

Sun worshipper? The heat can be unpleasant for many, but for those with rosacea prone skin it can be a real challenge

The barometer is rising and the high summer sun is at its most intense. While this is good news for our vitamin D levels, for some people extreme temperatures can be challenging, especially if you suffer with a skin issue such as rosacea, which isn't the best of friends with any kind of heat.

In a recent National Rosacea Society (NRS) survey, rosacea patients said they frequently used sun protection and are vigilant about protecting their skin.

“It’s basic but very important – sun protection is a must for everyone at any time of year, but individuals with rosacea may be particularly at risk,” said Dr. Zoe Draelos of Dermatology Consulting Services. In addition to its usual hazards – from early ageing to skin cancer – exposure to UV radiation in rosacea patients is a top trigger for flare-ups, she noted.

In the recent NRS survey of 540 rosacea patients, nearly all respondents (98%) reported taking measures against sun exposure. Of those, 85% reported using various types of sunscreens, with 11% using a chemical-based formulation, 42% using a physical sun block containing zinc or titanium dioxide and 16% with protection that uses both.
Only 9% of respondents said they used SPF15 sunscreen, the minimum recommended level of protection for rosacea; most used an SPF of 30 to 50 or more, and 17% used products with greater than SPF 50 protection. Seventy-eight per cent reported using a brand with broad-spectrum action against both UVA and UVB rays.

There are many effective ways to avoid skin damage, but they require planning and forethought, Dr. Draelos said. For example, not all sunscreens protect against both types of rays, she noted – UVA rays age skin and UVB rays burn – but those containing a physical block and an SPF of at least 15 will be effective. However, she warned that using the sun block only once was not enough.

“Patients may feel well protected, especially if the SPF is very high, but a single application won’t last the whole day,” she said. Individuals should remember to apply at least 30 minutes before going out and reapply every two hours, especially if swimming. In the survey, just 38% reported doing so always, with 40% reapplying only sometimes.

Other ways to protect against the sun include simple avoidance, Dr. Draelos noted. For example, 74% and 67% of respondents wore sunglasses or stayed in shaded areas, respectively, and 54% wore a broad-brimmed hat. Others stayed inside at midday or wore long-sleeved shirts and pants.

Daily sun protection is a must for any skin type, but anyone with rosacea should be especially vigilant. Sun exposure was named a top trigger for rosacea flare-ups by 81 percent of patients in a National Rosacea Society survey, and is also linked to the visible blood vessels (telangiectasia) and severe redness often associated with the disorder.

The NRS recommends the following when choosing a suitable sunscreen:

  • Find the right formula. There are two types of damaging rays: UVA rays age skin; UVB rays burn. Surprisingly, not all sunscreens protect against both. Look for non-chemical sunscreens that contain zinc or titanium dioxide and deliver UVA/UVB protection with an SPF of 15 or higher. A formula designed for sensitive skin, such as a convenient mineral formulation, can help reduce the possibility of irritation.
  • Be smart — wear it every day. Apply sunscreen daily year-round, whether it's sunny or cloudy — the incidental exposure you get walking to your car or running errands can be just as damaging to skin over time as a day at the beach. There are also UVA/UVB sunscreens available that are designed for redness-prone skin. These convenient, multi-function products may contain a green or flesh tint, so you can protect skin from the sun and help minimise visible redness, too. They also work well as a makeup primer.

For intense sun exposure — a day spent outdoors, at the beach or by the pool — use an ounce of sunscreen (about a shot glass full) to cover the body. Apply it 30 minutes before going outside so it has time to absorb into the skin, and reapply it at least every two hours after swimming or sweating.

Ideally, limit your sun exposure, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm when the sun is strongest. And take note: high altitude, snow, water and even glass can increase the effect of ultraviolet rays, so protect skin throughout the year whenever you're outdoors.

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