ELLE MEN: Facing Sunward
23 March 2023



Three years ago, tennis superstar Rafael Nadal doubled down on his commitment to sun protection. A decade of gueling play under the scorching sun, ofter for hours, had led to a realisation that a one-time application was simply not enough. 


"I didn't always follow good sun protection habits, since sweating, not reapplying, and the length of my matches have exposed my skin to sun damage. But it's never too late to do things better," he said about his motivation to take better care of his skin via a partnership with Spanish dermatology provider, Cantabria Labs. 


He's 36 years old now, and it's clear that his lifestyle has taken a toll on his appearance — think deepset lines, rough texture, and unevern skin tone. Yes, he may be somewhat of an outlier (because who else really spends 17 hours under the sun on a regular basis?), but there's really no reason for us regular folk to skipt the SPF. 


The thing about not wearing sunscreen is that the resulting damage is invisible, and it often takes years to show up. There's also the risk of skin cancer, especially since the UV damage done to cells is accumulated over time — no, getting sunburnt doesn't "increase your resistance to sun damage". Even a tan is technically considered a burn, and the fact is, women are more likely to wear sunscreen than men. This has been reported in nearly every behavioural sunscreen study, and in Singapore, skin cancers are ranked sixth in male cancers. 


Dr Ian Tan from IDS Clinic says that there are several reasons why men in particular find it harder to wear sunscreen. "Some find it too much of a chore, others view it as a beauty product instead of seeing it as essential skincare, and others dislike the greasy texture of first-generation sunscreens. In my practice, some male patients have also expressed concerns that they'll be seen as effeminate if they worry about skincare or sunscreen," he says.


The good news is, like what Nadal says, is that it's never too late to start wearing sunscreen. Dr Ian describes a method of "habit stacking" — tagging the new habit (of applying sunscreen) to a pre-established habit to help with integrating the new one. For example, applying it right after brushing your teeth, or keeping a bottle of sunscreen near your gym equipment so that you're reminded to put it on. 


And choosing a sunscreen that you're willing to put on every day is much easier now, with refined formulations that feel weightless, or come with skin-loving ingredients that do double duty. For the office, IDS' S3 Tinted Sunscreen provides a hint of tint for healthy-looking skin. 


There are also dietary solutions to help reduce the extent of oxidative damage done to cells from the sun — though Soma Haus nutritionist Marie Bellin says that prevention is much better than cure. "There are suncare supplements, but they don't replace actual sun protection, whether it's a good SPF or physical protection like wearing a hat on hot days," she says. While the signs of photoaging (wrinkles and the like) are more obvious, oxidative stress can result in inflammation within the body too, she adds. 


So what should you incorporating into your diet? Bellin says antioxidants can be found in healthful foods like kale, cauliflower, berries, nut, and seeds. "Anything that is leafy and dark green (the darker the better) is going to really boost protection against UV rays," she says. Other things to look out for — tomatoes (with the skin on!) for their high lycopene content which neutralises the damage caused; or seafood like salmon, shrimp, and trout have high levels of astaxanthin, a naturally-occurring pigment which has been shown to refuce inflammation and neutralise cellular damage from UV rays. 


"Consuming all these foods that I've mentioned help to decrease the level of oxidative stress in your body. That's the way you should be eating all year round, not just to prepare your skin for summer or sun exposure," says Bellin.


"If you've already accumulated a tan of oxidative stress over the years, then it's going to take much longer for your body to bounce back, so committing to these dietary changes for several weeks at the minimum is needed to see improvement," she adds. 


Article published by ELLE MEN

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