How to avoid sun damage
Article date: 12 May 2014
Believe it or not, summer is just around the corner - and while there's no guarantee that sunshine will be on its way with it, stranger things have happened.
While blue skies and (reasonably) warm temperatures are nice, it's never been more important that we're aware of the risks that sun exposure can bring and how to protect ourselves against it.
According to official figures, around 2,200 people in the UK die every year from skin cancer, which is one of the country's most common forms of the disease.
Furthermore, our eyes can also be badly affected without proper protection, with long-term sunlight exposure raising a person's chances of developing certain cataracts and pterygia, which is a condition that sees growths form on the surface of the eyeball.
What can I do to protect my skin?
Education is key when it comes to adequate sun protection and the first step is knowing exactly what measures are sufficient to limit any long-lasting damage.
The first mistake that many people make is assuming you can only get sunburnt while on holiday. While it's essential you avoid over-exposure when abroad, taking the same precautions while in the UK is just as important.
Regardless of where you are, spending time in the shade between 11am and 3pm - when the sun is at its hottest - is good advice to heed.
Secondly, the best barrier you can provide between yourself and the sun's rays is a physical one. With this in mind, covering up with a T-shirt, sunglasses and hat is sensible when you feel you may be at risk of burning.
This sentiment is echoed even more strongly when children are involved, with some sections of the scientific community holding the belief that those who suffer blistering sunburn prior to turning 20 double their risk of developing malignant melanoma - the most serious form of skin cancer.
Finally, you should invest in some high-quality suncream. The product you choose should be at least factor 15 for it to have any real protective effect. Additionally, you should check it is broad-spectrum, which means it can block damaging UVA and UVB rays.
Suncream should be regularly applied throughout the day if you intend to stay outside for long periods of time, while you should also be wary of the need for more frequent use if you are taking dips in a swimming pool, as water can wash it off and magnify UV rays, meaning there are twice as many reasons to ensure you are protected.
One aspect of sun damage that many people do not recognise is how much of an effect it can have on our eyes.
For this reason, it is important to invest in a pair of sunglasses that can sufficiently protect against harmful rays.
It's recommended that any shades you choose to purchase are dark, bearing the CE mark and the British Standard BS EN 1836:1997. They don't have to be expensive, but they will ensure they are doing more than just keeping the glare of the sun from blocking your view.
What happens when I burn?
If you do end up suffering from over-exposure, sunburn involves the top layers of skin reacting by releasing chemicals that result in blood vessels leaking fluid and swelling.
Severe cases can leave you with blisters on your skin, while it can also be an extremely painful experience that can take several days to cool down.
People with a lot of moles or freckles, red or fair hair or light-coloured skin tones are generally the most susceptible to being burned and should pay particular attention to the amount of time they spend under the sun.
In the short term, you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen to control pain or swelling associated with sunburn, while applying a cold compress in the form of a damp flannel to the affected area may also provide some relief.
When in doubt over whether you have suffered any long-term damage you should consult your GP for advice.