What you need to know:
- It’s important that you get a balance between reducing your risk of skin damage from burning and enjoying the benefits of the sun
- To protect your skin, stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, when the sun's UV rays are strongest. Look for shady areas under trees, and use umbrellas or canopies
- You should check your moles regularly for changes that may indicate skin cancer
Sun care means protecting skin from the harmful effects of the sun. Everyone needs to protect their skin, no matter what colour it is. Even on a cool day or when there are clouds in the sky, the sun can damage skin.
Too much sun
Some sun exposure within safe levels can be beneficial because our skin uses it to produce vitamin D, which can reduce your risk of developing a number of cancers and is also important for bone health.
However, too much sun is harmful and can damage your skin, putting you at serious risk of skin cancer. It’s important that you get a balance between reducing your risk of skin damage from burning and enjoying the benefits of the sun.
The sun gives out ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is made up of three types of rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVC rays from the sun can't get through the ozone layer but UVA and UVB rays can. UVA can cause wrinkles, and UVB can cause sunburn and skin cancer.
Short-term skin damage
Short-term overexposure to the sun can burn your skin, usually making it red, hot and painful. People often think that sunburn is only a problem when sunbathing but it can also happen when you are out and about in the sunshine, such as playing in the park or gardening.
You can soothe sunburnt skin with general lotions such as aqueous cream, aloe vera lotion or other aftersun lotions. If your sunburn is severe, you may need medical treatment.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
Heat exhaustion is when your body becomes overheated after too much sun or by getting sunburn. You may have the following symptoms:
- a headache
- feeling or being sick
- feeling faint or dizzy
- heavy sweating
- hot skin
- high temperature (between 37 and 39˚C).
If you think you have heat exhaustion, get to a cool place as soon as possible and drink plenty of water. If the symptoms don’t get better, or get worse, you should seek medical advice.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal if it’s not treated.
Long-term skin damage
Ageing and infection
Ageing of your skin is a result of the UVA rays penetrating it, causing wrinkles and sagging. UV rays can also cause damage to the eyes. Too much sun exposure may even damage your immune system, increasing your risk of becoming ill.
The exact causes of skin cancer aren’t fully understood at present, however your risk of skin cancer increases if you have exposed your skin to UV rays by spending a lot of time in the sun. You may also be more likely to get skin cancer if you have fair skin.
There are two types of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma skin cancer is the most serious form, but it can be treated if found early. Getting badly burned can increase your risk of melanoma, especially as a child.
There are different types of non-melanoma skin cancer — basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). Your risk of BCC is increased if you had repeated sunburn, especially as a child. You may be more likely to get SCC if you are exposed to sun throughout your life, for example if you work outdoors.
Preventing sun damage
To protect your skin, stay out of the sun between 11am and 3pm, when the sun's UV rays are strongest. Look for shady areas under trees, and use umbrellas or canopies.
You can protect your skin by wearing long-sleeved tops and trousers. Choose materials that have a close weave as these block out the most UV rays.
Wet clothing stretches and lets more UV radiation through to your skin. You can now buy sun protection factor (SPF) clothing and sunsuits, which help to protect your skin from UV radiation.
Wearing a wide-brimmed hat can reduce the amount of UV radiation reaching your face.
Sunglasses help to protect your eyes and eyelids. Wraparound sunglasses will also protect the skin around your eyes. You should choose a pair of sunglasses that has the following labels:
- 100 percent UV protection
- UV 400 — this means it protects from both UVA and UVB rays
Always use broad spectrum sunscreen. This means that it protects your skin against UVA and UVB rays. Make sure it has a SPF of 15 or higher. The SPF tells you how good the sunscreen is at filtering out the UVB rays. UVA protection is measured with a star rating. Sunscreens can have between zero and five star UVA protection — opt for one with at least four stars.
Sunscreen can't give you complete protection since some UV rays will always get through, but you will get more than 90 percent protection from UVB rays with SPF 15.
Use sunscreens generously. You should use about two teaspoons of sunscreen for you head, neck and arms, and two tablespoons for your whole body when wearing a swimsuit. Re-apply sunscreen every two hours or more often if you go swimming, or sweat a lot. Water reflects the sun's rays so you need to apply sunscreen before swimming.
Cloud doesn't stop the sun's UV rays getting through so you should protect yourself even if it's cloudy. Haze (from thin clouds or mist) can even increase your UV radiation exposure because the rays are scattered.
You should check your moles regularly for changes that may indicate skin cancer. Most changes are harmless, but you should see a doctor if you notice:
- growth of an existing mole — especially over 7mm (a quarter of an inch) in diameter
- a mole with an uneven or ragged edge
- a mole of varying shades of colour
- a mole with an inflamed or red edge
- a mole that bleeds, oozes or crusts
- a mole that feels different, painful or itches
Don't use sunbeds
Sunbeds mimic the effect of the sun and give out artificial UVA and UVB radiation. Exposure to artificial UV radiation can also damage your skin.
Sunbeds have been linked to premature wrinkles and an increased risk of skin cancer. They can also damage your eyes.
An artificial tan from a sunbed doesn't protect your skin against sunburn on holiday; it's similar to using a sunscreen with SPF 2 to 3.
Protecting children from the sun
Young skin is sensitive and very easily damaged by the sun. Getting sunburnt as a child is known to increase the risk of developing a dangerous form of skin cancer as an adult.
Keep your baby in complete shade. Pop-up shelters are a good way to protect your child from the sun on the beach or in the garden. Canopies and parasols for prams and buggies protect your child when you're out and about.
Dress your child in loose-fitting clothes that cover up their arms and legs. A hat with a brim at the front and a cloth flap that covers the neck provides good sun protection. Sunglasses will help to protect your child's eyes.
Use water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher — the higher the better — on all exposed areas of your child's skin and apply generously every couple of hours. If you take your child swimming, re-apply the sunscreen after towel drying. UV protection swimwear is also a good way of protecting your child.