Diaries Magazine

Skin-safe Sunshine

Posted on the 15 August 2020 by Sparklesandstretchmarks @raine_fairy
Skin-safe Sunshine

Noel Coward’s lyric about mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun remains an accurate reflection today. At the first sign of bright weather, people don minimal clothing and spend hours in the sun on beaches, at beauty spots or in their gardens.

Perhaps it is because the British see so little of the sun that they find it so compelling, but sunshine does provide uncontested benefits. It contributes to mental wellbeing, with many people suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) during the winter months when there are fewer hours of sunlight.

Exposure to sunlight is also necessary for the production of Vitamin D, required by the body to maintain healthy teeth and bones. Insufficient exposure to sunlight leads to Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause or contribute to osteoporosis in adults and diseases like rickets in children. However, only a little exposure to sunlight is needed for adequate Vitamin D production. According to the World Health Organisation, “5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure of hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months is sufficient to keep your Vitamin D levels high”.

More exposure to sunlight has no additional benefits and excessive exposure is detrimental to skin health. Too much exposure to the sun’s UV rays causes premature aging of the skin and, more seriously, increases the risk of skin cancer. Any tan increases risk and, according to the Cancer Research UK, getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer, which kills more than 2,000 people every year in the UK.

Skin-safe Sunshine

How much time can be spent in the sun safely is dependent on a number of factors, such as the individual sun-sensitively level of somebody’s skin and how strong the UV rays are to which they are being exposed. People whose jobs or hobbies involve spending a lot of time outdoors are at greater risk, as are those who sunbathe. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) warns that children (especially babies) and young people are more vulnerable, as their skin is more sensitive and repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to the development of skin cancer in later life. Children aged under six months should be kept out of direct strong sunlight altogether.

The risk posed by UV exposure need doesn’t mean that everyone should spend all sunny days indoors, however. By taking appropriate measures, the risk can be reduced and sunshine can be enjoyed safely.     

NICE, the NHS, Cancer Research and the British Association of Dermatologists all advise that from March to October in the UK, people should protect themselves from the sun by seeking out shade, especially between 11am and 3pm, covering up with suitable clothing and using sun cream.

Skin-safe Sunshine

Seek Out Shade

When planning expeditions on days when UV levels are high, available at the Met Office, you should choose destinations which include shaded areas, so exposure to direct sunlight can be limited.   

In the absence of trees, products such as shade sails and canopies are an effective method of providing sun protection from above while allowing circulation of cooling fresh air through the open sides. Often used in commercial settings, such as cafes and nurseries, they are also suitable for domestic use. With correct sail shade installation, shade can be achieved in the right places to allow safe time spent relaxing on the patio or engaging in structured outdoor exercise. Shade is especially important for outdoor swimming pools, as 30% of UV rays are reflected back from the water, increasing the exposure and consequent risk of skin damage.

Cover Up

It might seem counterintuitive to add more clothing when the weather is hot, but the right clothing can protect skin from the sun without overheating.

A wide-brimmed hat will protect your face, neck and ears. Long-sleeved tops and trousers or long skirts in tightly woven fabrics will stop sunlight reaching your arms and legs too. It’s recommended to choose lightweight and loose-fitting clothing to keep you cool.

Use Sun Cream

When direct sunlight cannot be avoided and covering up isn’t viable, for example at the beach when time will be spent in the water, sun cream is essential. Sun cream will give good protection provided the right cream is used and it is applied properly. Read the label when choosing the sun cream, make sure it’s suitable for your skin and follow the instructions for the quantity and frequency of application. For detailed guidance on choosing and applying sun cream, visit the British Association of Dermatologists website.

Although skin cancer can be treated, success can’t be guaranteed, and some lesions can result in permanent disfigurement. There is no substitute for prevention.

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