protecting your skin

Protecting yourself, and your loved ones, against the sun

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Whether we’re in the throes of summer, experiencing a heatwave, travelling to warmer climes or simply out and about, it’s important to protect your skin against the sun. Why? Well, you may not be aware but exposure to the sun speed’s up the ageing process and is also the main cause of skin cancer. The invisible ultraviolet (UVA and UVB) rays from the sun cause skin damage which can result in skin cancer years down the line.

How can I protect my skin?

✓ Stay out of sun especially during the peak times which is between 11am and 3pm

✓ Use sunscreen: this should be waterproof SPF 30 and above with at least 4-star rating

✓ Wear loose clothing, the darker the better

✓ Use a hat when out and about

✓ Protect your eyes with UV protective sunglasses

✓ Find shade

✓ Remember, even in winter the sun can emit as much damaging UV radiation as summer sun

Which sunscreen should I choose?

Picking a sunscreen that is high in SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and star rating will give you the best, balanced protection from UVB and UVA. Sunscreen now come in all forms, creams, gels, sprays, lotions, milks, foam, and oils. SPF provides high level protection against ultraviolet B radiation and are rated on a scale of 6-50+ based on the level of protection they offer. The lower the rating the less protection is given. Sunscreens also now have a star rating alongside the SPF rating. Generally the higher the number of stars the better the protection against UVA.  You should always look for 4 stars or more.

How to use in adults and children:

  • apply liberally 30 minutes before exposure
  • apply again at least every 2 hours
  • apply after each activity where you sweat or get wet

Babies in the sun

Babies under 6 months should be kept in shade and out of direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 11-4pm, when the UV radiation is at its highest. However, if this is difficult a small amount of sunscreen SPF 50, 5* can be used to face and hands whilst ensuring they are covered in loose clothing top to toe and with a sun hat. Sunscreens also contain chemicals that can be absorbed more quickly in baby’s thinner skin so a small amount should be used if needed.  Remember, babies can overheat very quickly so it is best to keep them in the shade.

What clothes are suitable?

Clothing plays a key part in sun protection and in the summer, you should pick outfits which help give you the best protection from the sun.

Colour- the darker the colour the more radiation will be absorbed, and the more protective it will be

Thickness- the thicker the cloth, the more protective it is. Think denim versus sheer fabrics. Generally, if you can see through it, it is not very effective against the sun.

Fabric- shiny, reflective material will reflect the radiation. Unbleached cotton can absorb UV radiation due to its natural fibres. Clothing specifically made with a high UPF will also protect against the sun.

Fit- loose clothing is better. If a top is stretched to fit, it creates weaknesses in the fabric for the UV light to get through.

Coverage- Cover as much of the skin as possible. Loose and long-sleeved shirts and trousers are ideal

Activity- if wet or stretched, fabric will become more transparent reducing protection.

UPF- look for UPF (Ultraviolet Protection Factor) labels to guide your wardrobe. This indicates how much radiation from UVA and UVB light is absorbed by the cloth and therefore protecting the skin.

The sun does have some benefits…

Enjoying the sun safely can provide the benefits of vitamin D without raising the risk of skin cancer and is also very important for those that may be lacking in vitamin D, such as:

  • People with naturally brown or black skin
  • People who wear clothing covering their whole body and head
  • People who rarely go out or avoid the sun
  • Pregnant women and those that are breastfeeding who lack vitamin D

A sensible approach would be to allow brief exposure to forearms and face during late spring to early autumn. There are also good dietary sources of vitamin D, and you could consider a low dose over the counter supplement. Anyone who has been told they are at high risk of skin cancer should avoid the sun completely.

What to look out for after being out in the sun?

The cells in our skin that make melanin (the pigment that gives our skin its colour) can grow in a cluster to form harmless moles, but when skin is damaged from exposure to UV light from the sun or sunbeds these can form cancer cells.

Who is at risk?

  • People working outside or those who spend a lot of time outdoors recreationally
  • People with fair skin and individuals with light coloured hair
  • People with a suntan – from natural sunlight and/or sunbeds
  • People who burn more easily
  • Babies and young children
  • People with a lot of freckles and moles
  • People who have a family history of skin cancer

 

To keep safe check your skin on a regular basis - ideally every 2-3 months and make sure you see a clinician if you notice a lump, bump, or change in a spot or a mole. If your mole gets bigger in size, changes shape or colour, bleeds or becomes itchy, then you need to see your doctor. Remember ABCDE.

When to seek advice?

Asymmetry, it has changed in shape or looks asymmetrical

Border, the edge has become blurred or “fuzzy”

Colour of moles should be uniform. It should not change or have multiple colours

Diameter, it has gotten bigger in size

Elevation, it has gone flat to elevated or raised

If you need advice or help regarding staying safe in the sun, or are worried about a change in your skin or a mole, book an appointment with one of our GPs today. 

You can also use our QuickConsult service for fast access to prescriptions, advice, without the need for a GP appointment. Find out more. 

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