Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Summer’s here! And in true British style, the strawberries are out, the barbecue is heating up, and the country is making the most of every warm second. While summertime is associated with relaxation and outdoor antics, it is important not to forget to cover up. Sunburn is not only extremely uncomfortable; it can have potentially serious consequences. Here’s what you need to know about UV rays and staying safe in the sun.
Ultraviolet radiation is part of the spectrum of light (electromagnetic spectrum) that reaches the earth from the sun. There are three types of UV radiation: the longest, UVA (which is divided into two sub-ranges: UVA1 and UVA11), followed by UVB and UVC. The ozone layer filters some of these rays and the shorter UVC rays are mostly absorbed before reaching the earth.
Although we know that ultraviolet rays cause skin cancer, the actual root of the cause is under investigation, with cancer researchers constantly developing new theories. For a long time, UVB rays have been the biggest concern, but as scientists have learnt more about UVA rays, there is a clear implication that they are linked to cancer, too. The good news is that with an increased understanding of how sun rays can cause cancer, we have increased ways of protecting ourselves from those dangerous rays.
UVA rays are the most prevalent ultraviolet rays, making up around 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the earth, and we are all exposed to high levels during our lives. UVA rays are present in all daylight hours throughout the year and can penetrate glass and clouds. UVA penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB rays – all the way through to the dermis layer - and causes ageing and wrinkling (photoaging). Research is ongoing but it is thought that UVA rays may initiate, and definitely contribute to, skin cancer.
UVB rays are the rays responsible for causing sunburn and red skin, and they damage the outer (epidermal) layers of skin. UVB rays contribute to tanning and photoaging, and their prevalence varies according to the time of day, season and location. UVB rays can’t penetrate glass and while they are around all year round, they are especially strong in the British summertime between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., particularly at high altitudes or near reflective surfaces, (such as on a lake or by the sea). If you are on a reflective surface such as water or snow, you could catch the UVB twice: once on their way down, with about 80% of the rays being reflected up again.
So, while UVA rays are more prevalent, UVB rays are more powerful, which means that you need to protect your skin from both.
“But mad dogs and Englishmen, go out in the Midday sun”, says the old Noel Coward song; while many countries take a siesta or seek shade during the hottest part of the day, us Brits tend to stay out when the sun is strongest. If you happen to be out in the sunshine, try to stay in the shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., which is when the UK sun is at its strongest. Protect your eyes and skin by wearing good sunglasses and covering up when it’s hot, and make sure you slap on the sun cream.
Choosing Sun Cream
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) indicates your skin’s protection from UVB rays. Factors 8, 15, 30 and 50 are generally available, with the factor indicating the additional protection e.g. factor 15 means that you can stay in the sun for 15 times longer without burning than you can without cream. It is recommended that you use at least factor 30 to offer maximum protection to your skin. However, as we now know that UVA rays play a big part in skin cancer even though it doesn’t cause burning, SPF sun cream isn’t adequate; you need to make sure that it protects you from UVA rays, too.
Broad spectrum sun creams offer UVB SPF and UVA protection, which is indicated by a sun cream’s star rating. This is a relatively new concept and one that some people are still not aware of; in fact, some sun creams still fail to offer UVA protection as well as UVB. UVA ratings go up to five stars; the higher the star rating, the more protection you are getting from dangerous UVA rays.
Applying Sun Cream
Sun cream should be applied generously; if you apply too little, you will reduce its protective qualities. If you are going to be out for a long time, apply a double layer of sun cream: one layer about half an hour before you go out, and another layer just before you leave. Remember to reapply regularly (if you have long-lasting sun cream, check for the manufacturer’s recommendations) and remember that cream can come off after swimming or if you have been sweating. Even if you are using a long-lasting, water-resistant sun cream, reapply after swimming.
Some areas may be more prone to burning than others; noses, lips and moles can be vulnerable, but covering them with sun block can help to prevent burning or blistering. If you do have freckles or moles, keep an eye out for any new moles or lumps, or moles or freckles that have changes shape, size or colour. Usually, there is nothing to worry about, but skin cancer is much easier to treat if it is spotted early, so consult your GP if you do notice a new, unusual, or changing mole or patch of skin.
The Benefits of Sunshine
UV rays aren’t all bad news. Not only does the sun give us precious vitamin D, it raises our spirits and can help to treat some skin conditions such as acne, eczema and psoriasis. If you suffer from a skin condition, a little bit of exposure to the sun outside of the 11-3 risk time could help. If you are struggling to get your skin condition under control, get in touch.