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Dark Damage:

Protect Your Skin During Off-Peak Sun Hours Too

Summer is winding down, so many of us are maximizing our last sun-filled days.  Unfortunately, we all know that UV exposure can lead to sun damage responsible for dark spots, hyperpigmentation, premature aging, and most importantly, risk of skin cancer.


But did you know that damage is not only from direct sun exposure?  It can also happen after dark. A research study at Yale University found that much of the damage ultraviolet radiation inflicts on our skin occurs well into the evening hours. This is referred to by some as “dark damage”. So, to truly prevent and address summertime skin damage, we need to think beyond daylight hours.


What is Dark Damage?


Melanin, the pigment that gives our skin, eyes, and hair colour, is central to dark damage.  It is commonly believed that melanin protects our skin’s DNA by blocking harmful UV light. But the university’s research found that when exposed to UV radiation, melanocytes (the cells that produce melanin) can prompt skin cell DNA damage called cyclobutane dimer (CPD).  Here, DNA bases attach together and bend DNA, contorting it.


The study showed that cells without melanin only generated CPD when exposed to UV radiation but surprisingly, melanocytes generated CPD throughout nighttime.  The fact that our protective cells cause damage was a revelation on its own! It was then found that DNA damage caused by energy from excited electrons also was seen at night.  This is much like the damage caused by sunlight.


Dark Damage Solutions


Now that we know that dark damage occurs, what can we do about it?  These new findings call for preventative measures and after hours care.  Countering damage by diverting harmful energy and turning it into heat is one identified strategy.  To do this, one promising study found Vitamin E reduced energy agents by 85%. So applying Vitamin E-rich oils such as safflower, almond, and sunflower could lessen dark damage.  They also nourish your skin and bolster barrier function, so starting to use one of these in your skincare routine is an excellent addition for the seasonal transition.


However, protecting your skin with sun protection remains paramount.  While this is most crucial in the spring and summer, sun damage can happen all year round.  Protective practices include using sunblock with adequate SPF, taking shade breaks, avoiding peak sun periods between 10 am and 2 pm, and covering up with hats and lightweight garments whenever possible. These measures are more important than ever since damage doesn’t start and stop with the sun.


Kristen Ma  is an Ayurvedic skincare specialist and the co-founder of Pure+Simple, a Canadian spa chain and retailer of natural beauty products.