There’s nothing like a bit of sun and let’s face it in Northern Ireland it’s a rare enough sight. It’s that time of year again where we all love to get out and about to enjoy the good weather and many of us choose to travel further afield to sunnier climes. It’s important however when at home or abroad that we keep ourselves and our family protected from the sun while still enjoying it.
Why tanning is not healthy
When the skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, it produces a dark pigment known as melanin. Melanin is released by cells called melanocytes and its presence represents skin damage. The skin releases melanin in an attempt to try to absorb more UV radiation. The more melanin released, the darker the ‘tan’.
While nobody wants to nor could completely avoid the sun, it is important to protect ourselves from the damage that it can cause.
Some sun, below the level that would cause sunburn can be good for us. It helps to maintain our circadian rhythm and regulates mood, we also need sun to help our skin to produce vitamin D.
What are the risks
The most serious problem caused by too much exposure to the sun is skin cancer. The sun can also cause sensitivity rashes, blistering of the skin and prickly heat. Over exposure to the harmful UV rays can also worsen some existing skin conditions.
The sun emits UVA and UVB radiation. UVA is responsible for damaging the skin’s elastin and therefore causing signs of ageing such as wrinkles, ageing spots and brown pigmentation, it can also cause skin cancer. UVB rays can cause sunburn and are thought to be responsible for malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
How to protect our skin
We want to enjoy outdoor activities in the sun whilst maintaining a healthy level of exposure.
Sunscreens work in one of two ways depending on their ingredients.
Organic filters absorb harmful UV radiation whilst inorganic filters reflect UV radiation away from the skin.
All sunscreens in the UK are labelled with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF). This relates to the level of protection against UVB rays and not UVA. SPF ranges from 6 to 50+ and an SPF of 30 with additional shade and protective clothing is recommended as being a satisfactory level of protection by the British Association of Dermatologists. This advice can vary from organisation to organisation.
Some sunscreens in the UK are also labelled with a star rating to provide a guide of the level of UVA protection offered. This star rating represents a ratio of UVA to UVB protection. Therefore when choosing a sunscreen it is important to choose one that offers a high SPF with a high level of stars, ideally 4 to 5.
Once application per day sun protection products
Some sunscreens claim to last for 8+ hours and therefore are sold on the basis of requiring a once-a-day application. When applying sunscreen we can often miss areas or apply too thinly. There are also chances that the sun protection could be accidentally removed throughout the day due to contact with water or towel drying for example. For that reason it is recommended that any sunscreen is reapplied every 2 hours.
In addition to using sunscreen, always wear sun protective clothing and cover up. Wear long sleeves, broad brimmed hats and long trousers or skirts where possible. I love to wear a maxi dress and wide brimmed straw had as it is light and cool but gives great sun protection. UV protective suits and hats are available for young children. Sunglasses are important for eye protection for all of the family , the sun’s UV rays can cause damage to eyes.
Moisturisers with an SPF
Moisturisers are often applied thinly and my be more prone to being rubbed off. The my offer a low level of protection but are not recommended to protect the skin from longer periods of exposure. The may not provide any UVA protection.
The use of sunscreen is not recommended in children under the age of six months. Children under six months should not be exposed to direct sunlight. For children over six months, sunscreen should contain SPF of 30 or above and have good UVA star rating (4-5 ideally) the UVA logo should appear on the labelling.
It’s important to remember that certain activities can affect or remove your sun protection. Sweating can cause sunscreen to come off. Water based activities can wash off some sunscreen and towel drying can also cause its accidental removal. Always reapply regularly when active.
UVLens is a really useful application that will give you a prediction of the UV levels anywhere in the world at any time. It can help you plan the safest time to be out in the sun.
Despite the advice on sun protection. Time spent in the sun should be limited. Stay in the shade or indoors when UV levels are high usually between 11am and 3pm.
Please stay safe in the sun and have a fantastic summer xxx.
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