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Sun safety: how to stay safe in the sun

Little girl rubbing sun cream onto her mother's face
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With clear blue skies and lazy summer days coming, you may want to spend most of your time outdoors. But to enjoy the sun without harm, you should take some time understanding sun safety.

Taking the proper precautions will help you have fun while staying safe in the sun. These include wearing sunscreen and limiting your time in direct sunlight.

In this guide, we’ll discuss:

  • What is sun exposure?
  • Why is sun safety important?
  • Sun safety tips
  • After-sun care tips
  • When to seek help?

What is sun exposure?

We all need sun exposure to get some much-needed vitamin D to keep our bones healthy. Being out in the sun can also lift our moods, which is vital if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It’s totally understandable if you want to stay in the sun all day, especially in the UK!

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends you have 5 to 15 minutes of sun exposure around two to three times a week to get the benefits of sunlight. However, too much sun exposure can be harmful.

The sun’s rays contain ultraviolet (UV) light. UV light in small doses is beneficial for our health as it contributes to:

Limited exposure to UV light can also help improve skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

Sunlight carries three types of UV light: ultraviolet A (UVA), ultraviolet B (UVB) and ultraviolet C (UVC).

Type of UV light How much light reaches the earth? What part of your skin can it affect? How can it affect you? 
UVA Around 95% Penetrates into the middle layer of your skin, also called the dermis Premature ageing
UVB Around 5% - mostly absorbed by the ozone layer Usually only reaches the outer layer of your skin, called the epidermis Can damage DNA in your skin cells, increasing your risk of skin cancer
UVC None - entirely absorbed by the ozone layer

 

The best way to protect yourself against too much UV light is to wear sunscreen and protective clothing. Any sunscreen you use should have at least SPF30 for adequate protection. A good sunscreen will protect you from both UVA and UVB light. Look for products that are ‘broad-spectrum’ or ‘multi-spectrum’.

Sun safety infographic

You should cover the exposed parts of your skin with sunscreen, including your face. Face protection from sunlight is vital as the skin on your face is particularly at risk of skin cancer.

Why is sun safety important?

Sun safety means you can still enjoy great weather while taking care of your health. Sun safety protects you from more than just sunburns. Excessive sun exposure can lead to many different health problems, including:

  • Premature ageing
  • Eye damage
  • Skin damage
  • Skin cancer

You may also notice some skin conditions getting worse, such as rosacea. However, exposure to the sun can have some benefits, such as providing much-needed vitamin D and increasing levels of serotonin – the happy hormone!

Eye injuries

UV light can damage your eyes and impact your eyesight. Sunlight can ‘burn’ your corneas, the outer covering of your eyes; this is called photokeratitis.

Photokeratitis is temporary, but the extent of the damage depends on how long you’ve been in the sun. If you’ve been in the sun for a while, you might notice changes to your vision, watery eyes or headaches. If these symptoms don’t disappear after 48 hours, speak to your doctor.

UV light can also contribute to developing cataracts or macular degeneration. To protect your eyes from sun damage, wear UV protection sunglasses.

Skin damage

Skin damage by UV light is also known as photoaging. Photoaging doesn’t just lead to skin cancer. UV light can damage your skin by causing a loss of elasticity, uneven skin texture and redness. This will make your skin appear older than it is.

Early ageing

Sun damage can age your skin considerably. UVA light damages collagen and elastin fibres, which helps give your skin its tautness and elasticity. You may also notice wrinkling and changes in pigmentation, like liver spots.

If you have light-coloured skin, you’re more at risk of early ageing and skin damage.

Skin cancer

UVB light can damage the DNA in your skin cells. This damage can make cells turn precancerous. Precancerous cells are abnormal cells that can potentially turn into cancer cells, although most do not.

The sun-exposed parts of your body are more at risk of developing skin cancer. These include your face, ears and hands.

If you have sensitive skin, certain sunscreens can cause irritation. Try to look for sunscreens for sensitive skin. These are usually free from perfumes or fragrances, salicylates and other irritant ingredients.

Sun safety tips

Knowing exactly how much time in the sun is suitable can be tricky – which is why we’ve put together some sun safety tips:

Wear SPF sunscreen

We recommend you wear sunscreen that has a minimum of SPF30. But what does SPF mean?

SPF stands for sun protection factor. The SPF number tells you how much longer it would take for UV light to redden your skin if you use it correctly. So, if you apply a sunscreen of SPF30, it would take 30 times longer for your skin to redden than if you didn’t wear any.

SPF50 sunscreens protect you from 98% of UV light, compared to the 97% from SPF30 (1% can make a huge difference!). This doesn’t always mean a higher SPF works better. Wearing a higher SPF can lead to complacency.

If you think your sunscreen has better coverage, you might be tempted to stay in the sun for longer. You might even forget to reapply sunscreen.

Whether you wear SPF30 or SPF50, you should still follow the same steps:

  • Reapply sunscreen a minimum of every 2 hours
  • Reapply sunscreen after swimming, exercise, sweating and towelling
  • If you’re swimming, choose a water-resistant sunscreen
  • Use an amount of sun cream equivalent to the size of a golf ball or 6 teaspoons to cover your entire body
  • Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to your eyelids and ears!

If you have a history of sun damage or skin cancer, always wear the highest sun protection factor and seek shade.

Shop sunscreen

Stay hydrated

Being out in the sun can make you feel thirsty, so naturally, you’ll want a nice cold drink to cool you down. Avoid sugary and fizzy drinks as they won’t hydrate you as water does.

Too much sun exposure leads to less water in your skin. Dehydrated skin is more prone to sun damage. It’s a vicious cycle that you can avoid if you protect your skin from UV light.

Keeping yourself hydrated is an easy way to maintain good skin health. Aim to drink around six to eight glasses of water a day. An easier way to do this is to keep a large bottle of water with you on days out and make sure you drink it throughout the day.

If you feel dehydrated during the day due to sun exposure, you may feel dizzy, tired or thirsty. Your pee can turn a very dark yellow and smell. Oral hydration treatment will treat your dehydration quicker than just drinking water.

Protect your eyes

Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that have built-in UV protection. Look for sunglasses with a CE mark. This marking means the sunglasses conform with the European health and safety standards. These sunglasses will offer you a good level of protection against UV light.

Look for the ‘UV400’ mark for sunglasses with even more protection. These glasses will protect your eyes against 99% of UV light.

Wear clothing to cover your skin and scalp

Many of us enjoy getting sun on our skin, but it’s essential not to be overexposed. After getting a recommended 5 to 15 minutes, wear protective clothing covering your skin.

As the weather will be hot, we recommend wearing loose-fitting clothing such as a light cotton t-shirt or a linen shirt. You should also protect your scalp by wearing a wide-brimmed hat.

Keep an eye on your moles

If you have moles on your skin, keep an eye on them after being out in the sun. Moles are a type of skin growth where the cells have a lot of pigmentation, giving them a darker colour. They’re perfectly normal to have and aren’t anything to be worried about most of the time. Some moles even disappear as you get older.

UV light can affect moles by increasing their risk of becoming melanoma, a skin cancer. Check your moles regularly for any size, colour or shape changes. You should speak to your GP if you notice a mole change in appearance, start to itch or bleed.

After-sun care tips

After being out in the sun, try to cool your skin down once you’re at home. Take a cold shower or use a damp towel to cool your skin. If you’re cooling your baby or child’s skin, make sure they don’t get too cold.

If you’ve been sunburnt, your skin might be red, hot or sore. It may also flake and peel after a few days. Sunburnt skin usually gets better within seven days, but there are things you can do at home to treat it:

  • Get out of the sun as soon as you can if you notice your skin going pink, red or stinging
  • Apply after-sun cream or spray, like aloe vera, to soothe your skin
  • Drink plenty of water to cool down and prevent dehydration
  • If you have any pain, take pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • Cover any sunburnt skin from direct sunlight until your skin has completely healed

When to seek help

You should seek help if you notice any changes to your skin or if your sunburn symptoms have not gotten better after a few days. Speak to your pharmacist or doctor if you’re concerned about sun damage to your skin.

Certain people should be more careful when going out into the sun. These include if you:

  • Have a personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Have pale or light brown skin or freckles
  • Have red or fair hair
  • Have any skin conditions
  • Have moles
  • Have a tendency to burn more than tan

If you’re concerned about taking care of your baby in the sun, check out our baby sun care guide.

You should also take more precautions if you’re on holiday in a country with particularly intense sunlight. If you’re from the UK, your skin won’t be used to this sun intensity, so you’ll need to regularly wear protective clothing and sunscreen.

A final note on sun safety

You can enjoy the benefits of the sun while protecting yourself from harmful UV rays. Try to balance the two as you make the most of sunny weather. Protecting your skin from the sun now will give you a better chance to look and feel healthier in the future.

At LloydsPharmacy, we have a range of sun care, including sunscreen and Solero products. Check out our sun care guide for more tips and advice, including how to take care of your baby or child’s skin this summer.

References

www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/radiation-the-known-health-effects-of-ultraviolet-radiation
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30412763
www.bupa.co.uk/health-information/complementary-therapies/light-therapy
https://link.springer.com/article/10.1039/c3pp50023c
www.nhs.uk/live-well/seasonal-health/sunscreen-and-sun-safety
www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/skin-cancer/living-with/skin-care-after-skin-cancer
www.who.int/news-room/questions-and-answers/item/Radiation-effects-of-ultraviolet-(uv)-radiation-on-the-skin-eyes-and-immune-system
www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4425048
www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/how-does-the-sun-and-uv-cause-cancer
www.nhs.uk/conditions/moles