Common (sunny) sense with Anette Kristine Poulsen

Anette Kristine Poulsen, beauty editor at the Danish nationwide newspaper Børsen and author of Seriously Better Skin, share her sun tips and experience with sun damage.

In the 1980s, when perfect beauty was represented by a bronzed George Michael, Anette Kristine Poulsen was spending as much of her time as she could under the fluorescent lights of a sunbed, but the price for the golden tan turned out to be far higher than all the money she had paid for it – which is why she now knows so much about how important it is to look after your skin when you are in the sun.

I know that you have a personal story about sun damage. Would you mind sharing it with us?

“Very early on in my life, when I was about 12 or 13, I became obsessed with the sun in a very unhealthy way. I grew up in a small town in Jutland where my friends and I competed for the best tan. I would be green with envy if the sun was shining and I had to work in the bakery while my friends had time to lie about in the sun. It was all about ‘how many hours did you get in yesterday?’. You have to remember that in the 1980s there was no hint of sun cream – at most Nivea with factor 2 or 4. Burning in the sun wasn’t painless, but it didn’t matter so much. You could get into an ice-cold bath, and it just meant that your color got a hold – when the redness died down, you were left with a great tan. The highlight for many of us was after a long day in the sun pulling out your bikini bottoms to check how well your tan line was doing.

The sun worshipping stopped when my friend and I bought a sunbed together which we suspended above a mattress so that we could top up our tan as often as we wanted. My eagerness for the sun lasted until I was in my mid-30s when a dermatologist told me that my skin had become so damaged that it was ten years older than my biological age. This became a turning point.”

What are the results of sun damage on your skin?

“At that time, I knew that I was no longer able to tan evenly. My skin became irregular and patchy as if I’d been spattered with paint. I experienced redness, big pores, rougher and more sensitive skin. It doesn’t just disappear. That’s why I’m like once-burnt-twice-shy when it comes to the sun. You can only sustain a finite amount of sun damage, and I have already abused my skin so much that I need to be careful for the rest of my life.”

Can you explain what sun damage is?

“Skin that is under attack. It’s crying out for help. The moment your skin tans, it’s gone into defense mode. The skin is a brilliant organ that automatically produces its own melanin sun protection that spreads out into the skin cells and makes them darker, but if this exposure takes place just a little too quickly, the skin’s repair mechanisms don’t have the chance to compensate and you go red. Unfortunately, the skin retains the damage, and there comes a time when you have to pay. The best-case scenario is pigmentation. The worst-case is skin cancer.”

What can you do to avoid this damage?

“Well, you could shut yourself away. Stay out of the sun and live a sad life free of pigmentation. But no one wants to do that, and none of that changes the fact that the sun is life-giving and lovely. Or how important it is to our well-being and how vital a source of vitamin D it is.

We can be careful and protect ourselves against the sun. Do what we know works, namely the three s’s: siesta, sunhat and sun cream. I would add self-tanner to those because most of us feel better when we get a bit of a glow. It gives you that instant feel-good factor.

We should also remember that when we talk about sun cream, quantity is more important than factor. A survey published by Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen shows that most of us only use a quarter of the quantity we should (a teaspoonful for the face and a large handful for the body). Solar mathematics are merciless. By halving the quantity of sun cream, actual protection is only the square root of the protection factor of the sun cream. This means that if we use a factor 16, halving the amount we use will give the equivalent of factor 4 protection. Enough SPF 15 or 30 is therefore better than patchy use of SPF 50.”