Staying Safe in the Sun

female with sun damage

Summer is just around the corner. With Summer comes the sun, around 2 and a half months of it, during which time we Brits can’t get enough of it.  It’s understandable to see why, after all they say that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

As soon as the sun pops its head up from behind the clouds, the whole country flocks to parks and beaches to lap up as much sunshine as possible. But with this sun worshipping comes exposure to UV radiation. This in turn leads to sunburn proven by pictures circulating of unlucky Brits with some serious sun tanning mishaps.

The trouble with UV radiation is that it is directly linked with skin cancer. The more you are sunburnt, the higher the risk. It is believed that being sunburnt at least once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma, a common type of skin cancer.

Sun Awareness Week is running from the 8th to the 14th May this year, and was created to help educate the public on the risks of sun exposure. Because of the occasion, we here at Active Health Clinics have put together some information to help you stay safe in the sun.

What is Sun Damage?

Sun damage is the effect of UV radiation on the skin. It comes in a range of symptoms that get progressively worse the longer you are exposed. The symptoms also vary depending on the shade of skin you have.  Those with paler skin tend to be more affected by UV radiation. This is because pale skin is not as efficient at absorbing the radiation, making it more prone to sun damage.

The most common symptoms of sun damage are:

Dry Skin – Skin may flake, itch or wrinkle when it is over exposed to UV radiation. This is the most common sun damage symptom.

Sunburn – Red, painful, tight skin across an exposed area. You can usually see cut off points from t-shirts, or other forms of clothing. Extreme cases of sunburn can result in very painful blisters, skin peeling away from the affect area, and sometimes even heat stroke.

Actinic Keratosis – A raised patch of skin that can sometimes be shown as a small bump. This skin will be coarse and rough, and can feel like sandpaper. The colour can range from a brownish tint, to a yellow patch.

Long Term Collagen Changes – Long term exposure to UV radiation can actually affect the collagen in your skin. This can cause defined wrinkles, fine lines, thicker skin texture, and easy bruising on affected areas. The most common places are the back of the hand and the forearms.

What Causes Sun Damage?

Sun damage is the result of over exposure to UVA and UVB radiation. These types of radiation are primarily found in strong sunlight, and are linked with skin cancer.

UVA radiation is not as powerful as UVB radiation, but is able to penetrate deeper into your skin cells. Small, daily exposure to UVA radiation can cause serious skin damage without showing up as sunburn. UVA light is used by tanning booths, and is considered to be twenty times as damaging as natural sunlight. [1]

UVB Radiation is stronger than UVA radiation, but does not penetrate as far into your skin cells. When you wear sunscreen, you are primarily protecting your skin from this type of radiation. Clouds can also partially block UVB radiation, but you should not use them as your main source of protection. UVB irradiation is the number one cause of sun burn, and is strongly linked to skin cancer.

How To Protect Yourself from Sun Damage

The body does have a natural ability to protect itself from sun damage through the production of melanin (the pigment that turns skin brown as a natural protective measure), which has an effect on how careful you should be in the sun. For example, a person with pale skin, blonde hair, blue eyes would need to be more careful than someone with brown skin, dark hair, and brown eyes.

However, this natural protection shouldn’t be relied upon alone. Here are some sun damage prevention tips you should remember at the height of summer.

  • Stay indoors, or at least in shade, from 10am to 2pm. This is when the sun’s rays are the strongest.
  • Wear sun protective long clothing, sunglasses, and a hat.
  • Wear appropriate levels of sun cream, with a high enough SPF (sun protection factor) level to cope with the strength of the sun. The higher the UV index the higher the protection that is needed.
  • Re-apply sun cream every two hours, and after every swim (even if it is water resistant).
  • Drink lots of water, dry skin is more at risk of sun damage.
  • Make sure to hydrate your skin after a day in the sun.

You should also be especially careful when it comes to protecting babies and children from sun damage. Their skin is much more sensitive than an adult’s, so you must take extra care to ensure they are covered up and wearing the strongest SPF sun cream that is available.

Sun damage is at its most dangerous in the height of Summer. Unfortunately for us Brits, there is nothing we love more than to lay in the sun and forget our usually gloomy skies. By being careful and following the advice provided there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy Summer whilst feeling fully protected from the sun.

[1] – http://dermatology.medschool.ucsf.edu/skincancer/General/prevention/UV_Radiation.aspx