How One Cream Could Save Your Life – All You Need to Know About Sun Protection

As summer approaches, we’re all longing to feel the sun’s warmth again, gone are the gloves, scarves and boots and out come the sunnies, t-shirts and flip flops.

Whether you’re going abroad to chase the sun, or you’re going to be staying here in the UK and hoping it will show its face, sun protection is vital, and the dangers of ultraviolet radiation should not be over-looked. No one wants their skin to resemble a leather handbag, but it’s not just about vanity, it’s about health, and protecting yourself from the danger that comes with getting a glowing tan.

Michelle Sellors, MASTA nurse and expert in travel health and vaccinations, is back on the blog to offer her advice on keeping yourself safe against the damaging effects of the sun.

Why should you protect yourself against the sun?

• UV radiation can be divided into UVA, UVB and UVC. UVC is absorbed by stratospheric ozone and never reaches the earth. Over 90{8105bc8a7da0e4ee2985a05e217cd0e1bef95b551bf8bafd62a449e444182173} of the radiation which does reach the earth is UVA which is primarily responsible for skin ageing and tanning. The remainder is UVB which causes sunburn and malignant melanomas along with some skin ageing.

• Skin cancers occur when UV radiation damages the DNA of skin cells causing mutations. They can be divided into non-melanomas and the more serious malignant melanomas.

• Around 2-3 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancers occur across the world annually. They included basal and squamous cell carcinomas and can cause painful and disfiguring growths but are rarely fatal.

• The World Health Organisation has estimated 132,000 new cases of malignant melanomas globally each year. It’s the second most commonly reported cancer in young adults and can be fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. If new moles develop rapidly or existing moles exhibit changes such as itching, increasing in size, oozing and bleeding see a doctor to get them checked.

UV Rays – the facts

Many factors may affect the levels of UV radiation:-

Time of day. when the sun is at its highest point radiation level are greatest. This is usually 12-2pm but sun exposure ideally should be kept to a minimum between 10am and 4pm.

Latitude. closer to the equator higher the UV radiation (less distance to travel from the sun)

Altitude. ‘thinner’ atmosphere at higher altitudes absorb less radiation. UV radiation is thought to increase by 4{8105bc8a7da0e4ee2985a05e217cd0e1bef95b551bf8bafd62a449e444182173} every 300m of elevation.

Cloud and wind. Clouds and cool winds have more effect of temperature than UV radiation. Don’t be fooled- just because your skin is cool doesn’t mean it’s not being damaged.

Reflection. pale surfaces such as sand and snow can reflect UV radiation and increase sun burning. Water too can be a particular danger due to reflection and its cooling effect masking the danger signs that you are burning. UV radiation can directly penetrate water up to 1m depth.

How to Protect yourself against the Effects of the Sun

If you have any spent time in Australia you’ll probably be aware of their successful ‘Slip-Slop-Slap’ campaign. The updated version is ‘Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, Slap on a hat, Seek shade or shelter and Slide on some sunnies’.

Sunscreens are rated according to their ‘Sun Protection Factor’ (SPF), the higher the SPF the higher the level of protection. In the UK they are also given a star rating to indicate the protection against UVA. Use broad spectrum sunscreens, preferably SPF 15 plus and 5 stars.

Don’t spread sunscreen too thinly or it won’t be as effective – the average adult needs about 2 tablespoons to give a good level of coverage. Apply 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2-3 hours (more often if swimming or sweating).

Take particular care with children, and babies under 6 months should be shaded and never placed in direct sunlight. UV beach suits can keep children cool and protected and coloured sunscreens can make it more obvious if areas have been missed.

Something to think about…

Don’t forget… your lips and eyes. Sunglasses with a high level of UV protection should be worn and shaded goggles are a must for those partaking in active water or snow sports and wide brimmed hats can shade the face and neck.

Many medications, including the antimalarial doxycycline, some heart drugs and pain killers, can occasionally cause extreme photo-sensitivity and reactions to the sun, consult your doctor if you are currently taking these types of medication.

It’s a myth that getting a spray tan prior to going away protects your skin, however, if your aim from a holiday overseas is to come back looking bronzed consider getting one before you go and concentrate on protecting your skin whilst you’re there!

If you’re planning a trip abroad, make sure you are aware of any vaccinations you might need for the country/countries you are visiting. We’ve opened two STA Travel Clinics for far this year in Manchester and Liverpool, with a third opening on 30th May in Leeds, and more to come in 2013. Come in and have a chat to our experienced and professional nurses to make sure you’ve got yourself fully safe to travel.