As the summer months approach we’ll all be hoping for a little more of the sun that we enjoyed at the beginning of this month. But we also need to remember the potential health risks of those warming rays, particularly as this week is Sun Awareness Week. This is the advice from our skin care experts.
Why sun awareness is important
Tanning is caused by the skin producing more melanin (a dark pigment) to try and absorb the UV rays in sunlight, effectively the skin is trying to protect itself from UV damage. Excessive sun exposure can cause a range of problems including sunburn, prickly heat and rashes. It can also exacerbate existing conditions such as rosacea.
The most serious potential effect of sun exposure is skin cancer. More than 100,000 new cases of this disease are diagnosed in the UK every year and it is thought that the majority are caused by sun damage.
Sun exposure, specifically to ultraviolet A (UVA) can also cause signs of premature aging as it affects the elastin in your skin. This can lead to fine lines, wrinkles, leathery skin and brown pigmentation.
The type of skin you have can make a difference to your sun sensitivity and the resulting health risks. If you have pale, white, light brown or freckly skin then you should be particularly careful about sun exposure. Naturally brown or black skin tones will give you more protection, however damage is still possible and skin cancer is still a risk.
Babies’ and children’s young skin is particularly sensitive to the sun, and repeated damage at an early age can lead to serious health implications in later life. They should be kept out of the sun during the hottest part of the day and babies under six months should always be in the shade.
If you have skin problems related to a medical condition or a family history of skin cancer then you need to be particularly cautious.
Sun isn’t all bad!
A sunny day can really raise the spirits, and it can also raise your vitamin D levels as sunlight triggers the skin to produce this essential nutrient. Vitamin D is important for bone and muscle health and, according to Public Health England advice (July 2016), you need 10 micrograms a day.
Most people who are able to get out and about will receive enough vitamin D from the sunshine and their diet over spring and summer, but a dietary supplement might be helpful over the autumn and winter. Or it’s a great excuse for a winter sun getaway!
Prevention is better than cure
A bit of preparation and planning can ensure that you enjoy the sun without risking your health or your looks.
Timing your exposure
In the UK, from March to October, the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm. So on a sunny day it’s good to plan to be in the shade during this period. Long lunch anyone?!
The facts about sunscreen
Sunscreens can protect you from two types of radiation – ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). UVA is a cause of skin aging and skin cancer, and can affect you even through glass. UVB is the main cause of sunburn and also has links to skin cancer.
The SPF (Sun Protection Factor) on your sun tan lotion relates to how well it protects you from UVB and is on a scale of 2 to 50+. It’s recommended by the NHS to wear a minimum of SPF15 whereas the British Association of Dermatologists suggests SPF30.
The UVA protection from your sun cream is indicated by a star rating, with five stars offering the best protection. However, this is relative to the UVB protection, so a SPF30 lotion with five stars will offer you better UVA protection than a SPF15 lotion with five stars. The NHS recommends using a cream with at least a four star UVA protection. You might also notice “UVA” inside a circle on your sunscreen – this is a European marking to indicate that the protection meets European recommendations.
Be careful to check the expiry date on your sunscreen, most will last for two or three years.
It’s important to note that a lot of moisturisers with sun protection will only protect you from UVB rays, so you should still top up with sunscreen to avoid the aging effects of UVA.
Most people fail to apply enough sun tan lotion for adequate protection.
If you’re just using sunscreen on your head, arms and neck then you should be using around 2 teaspoons of it for the best protection. If you’re wearing a swimming cossie then you’ll need a whopping two tablespoons to adequately cover all your bare bits!
On children be careful not to miss their ears, feet and backs of hand – their young skin is extra sensitive to sun.
If you’re going to be out in the sun for a while then you should apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before you go outside to allow it to dry, and then top it up just before you go into the sun. You should reapply during the day according to the manufacturer’s instructions and after swimming, towel drying or profuse perspiration.
Don’t forget your eyes – a day at the beach can give you a painful burn to the surface of the eye, in the same way as you can burn your skin. So make sure you wear protective sunglasses, ideally with wide arms.
The top of your head can also burn, particularly if you have thin hair or a strong parting. A sunhat can be a flattering addition to your summer outfit, and it can also disguise a bad hair day (or post swimming hair)! If you want to be a bit more active then a sufficiently thick headscarf or Handyband will do the trick.
For children there is now a wide range of clothing available with SPF protection, including lightweight beach wear.
If you choose to use a sunbed then you should be aware that the risks are the same, if not greater, than sun exposure. Sunbeds and other UV tanning equipment provide a more concentrated source of UV radiation than natural sunlight, and it is illegal for people under 18 to use them.
So if you want to get ahead of the tanning game in the run up to summer than opt for an artificial tan – your skin will thank you for it in the long run!
Dealing with sun damaged skin
As well as the potential health risks, excessive sun exposure can also cause your skin to age prematurely. There are a range of services which can help rejuvenate your skin and give you back your youthful glow:
We offer a variety of chemical skin peels which remove old, dead skin cells to promote new cell growth. This is an effective way to treat aging skin and reduce areas of sun damage. Most patients also find that their skin appears smoother, healthier, plumper and tighter after the treatment.
Over time the aging effect of the sun can lead to persistent lines and wrinkles at an earlier age than would be natural. Botox anti-wrinkle injections relax the contractions of the muscles which underlie the wrinkles and, as a result, significantly reduce them.
CACI non-surgical facelift
The CACI system uses microcurrent impulses and LED light therapy to tone facial muscles and stimulate collagen regrowth. As a result the skin is tightened and lifted, helping reduce the appearance of sun damage and smooth away fine lines and wrinkles.
Mesotherapy revitalising injections
This rejuvenation treatment involves a series of micro injections to nourish and hydrate the skin. Is strengthens elastin fibres, stimulates collagen production and fights free radicals. The result is firmer and healthier looking complexion.
Laser facial rejuvenation
In addition to premature aging, the sun can also cause areas of damage or ‘sun spots’ on the skin. Our laser resurfacing treatment targets these specific areas through a process called photo-rejuvenation. The laser light penetrates the affected area of damage triggering the body’s natural healing processes.
Worried about something?
It’s important to monitor freckles and moles, particularly if you have a lot of them, to spot any changes early on. If you find a new mole, growth or lump, or an existing one changes size, shape or colour then you should see your doctor as soon as possible.
For advice on rolling back the aging effects of the sun, or dealing with areas of general sun damage, please contact us for a free consultation.