Safety in the Sun

As the days grow longer and warmer, many of us will welcome the opportunity to enjoy basking in the sunshine. However, although summer sunlight helps us to create healthy levels of Vitamin D, and can also lift our mood, we also need to be aware of the risks of sunburn. The British Association of Dermatologists report that 100,000 new cases of skin cancer are diagnosed annually in the UK, with damage from the sun a key factor.

UVA and UVB – what’s the difference?

A for Ageing: UVA irradiation can cause premature skin ageing, with effects such as wrinkles and pigmentation, and longer-term skin damage.  You are vulnerable to UVA impact even on an overcast day or when sitting near a window, since the rays’ long wavelength means they can penetrate cloud and glass.

B for Burn: UVB rays are those we associate with tanning, but are also responsible for 96% of cases of sunburn, which in turn increases the risk of skin cancer. UVB is strongest in the summer months in the UK.

Keep safe

  • Dermatologists recommend avoiding sun exposure during the hottest hours of the day, usually 11 am – 3 pm (when your shadow is shorter than yourself).
  • If you are out and about (even for a quick cuppa in the garden), seek shade where possible. Always protect yourself with suitable clothing (including hats and sunglasses) and sunscreen.
  • Children under 6 months should have minimal exposure to strong sunlight.

Your Sun Protection product guide

Be aware that SPF (sun protection factor) only relates to UVB rays; you also need UVA protection and products are rated in a star system by the EU for this.  The NHS advice is to use a sunscreen with SPF30 and at least 4 star UVA.  Apply generously before you go out in the sun and reapply often. Most sunscreens have a shelf-life of around 2/3 years.

The less hair on your head the more important it is to wear a sun hat to protect the scalp. Hats that also shade the neck as well as the face are well worth having, especially for children.

When choosing sunglasses, look for:  the 'CE Mark' and British Standard Mark; UV 400 label and “100% UV protection” written on the label or sticker; protection at the side of the eye, such as a wraparound style of frame.

Know your skin

  • Your own level of risk from the sun will depend on factors including colouring and family history
  • Higher risk is associated with red or fair hair and skin prone to freckles or birthmarks; a personal history of sunburn – particularly in childhood; family history of skin cancer
  • Get to know your own skin, checking for changes to existing moles and marks or new ones appearing. Don’t be afraid to raise any concerns with your doctor who can give your further advice or refer you to a dermatologist if appropriate

For more information and advice:

The British Skin Foundation – How to Stay Safe in the Sun