As we work our way into Spring/Summer, it is time to start thinking about increasing your knowledge in terms of sun protection. We are constantly bombarded with information about what the sun does to our skin, but as new statistics from Cancer Research UK reveal that the UK now has more cases of skin cancer than Australia; clearly we still aren’t getting it right.
As it is National Sun Awareness Week in the UK (6th– 12th May) here are a few commonly asked questions that will help you stay safe in the sun.
What does the sun do to your skin?
While you may get essential Vitamin D from the sun, its rays can also have a damaging affect on the skin. The sun’s rays are made up of both UVA and UVB rays.
UVA rays are the longest in the spectrum and penetrate the skin much deeper than any other. These are the rays that cause cellular damage which results in wrinkles and pigmentation.
UVB rays are shorter in length and these are the ones that cause the skin to tan or burn. This is why it is important to wear a broad spectrum SPF which can protect against both types. Sun damage isn’t always noticeable but any sun damage accumulated in your teens and twenties can emerge in your forties and fifties, so it is never too early to start protecting your skin.
What do the SPF numbers mean?
All the different numbers on the back of your sun cream bottle can be confusing and it can be hard to know what they really mean. SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and relates to a product’s ability to delay sun-induced burning, therefore it only relates to UVB protection. Products that offer UVA protection are sometimes listed with a star rating.
The numbers next to the SPF relate to how much of the sun’s rays are blocked by the product. For example;
SPF 8 blocks around 87% of UVB rays
SPF 15 blocks around 93% of UVB and some UVA rays
SPF 30 blocks around 96% of UVB and some UVA rays
But no product will completely block 100% of the sun’s rays. These factors allow your skin to stay in the sun for longer before burning than without sunscreen, but always check your skin’s reaction when out in the sun to ensure you don’t burn.
How do I avoid sunburn?
Firstly, always make sure you apply sunscreen at least half an hour before you go out into the sun and continue to do so during the day, normally around every two hours. If you go swimming, reapply straight afterwards unless you are using a waterproof formula.
You should also make sure you stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day which is between 11:30am and 3pm. Spending hours at a time in the sun can be too much for your skin, so try and break it up by sitting in the shade or going inside so your skin gets the chance to cool down.
Why do some people tan and others don’t?
If you have ever wondered why some people develop an even, golden tan and others burn easily then the answer is in your melanin production. Melanin is what gives your skin colour, so people with more melanin have naturally darker skin than those who don’t. Skin that has more melanin can take more of the sun’s rays for longer, as melanin is a natural sun protectant. This is why people with darker skin tend not to burn as easily as those with lighter skin. However, no matter how dark your skin is, you can still burn from prolonged sun exposure.
What are the benefits of the sun?
It is not all bad, as the sun’s rays and being in direct sunlight can have some amazing health benefits. Vitamin D is the most well-known of these as it helps to regulate the immune system and increase calcium absorption so you have strong bones.
People with skin conditions like acne and eczema can also benefit from limited time in the sun, as it helps to dry up excess oil and kill certain bacteria that can cause spots. Getting more Vitamin D can even help with the healing process of both eczema and acne.
The sun has also been proven to help with depression, circulation, insomnia and even regulating hormones.
For more information and sun protection products, click here.
Modified image on the beach from Flickr
Tan lines image from Flickr