Find out all you need to know about keeping safe in the sun this summer – whether you’re here at home or holidaying away!
This week celebrates Sun Awareness Week – but finding it in these horrid grey skies would be a start! While scorching sunshine is one of the few, frequent things that grace us on the North Welsh coast, this blog post is dedicated to a more serious matter. We’re going to talk about the national campaign run by the British Association of Dermatologists in their bid to raise awareness of skin cancer. Join us in staying safe and savvy about that lucky ol’ sun…who has nothing to do (unlike us) but roll around heaven all day…
What is Sun Awareness Week all about?
Sun Awareness is the British Association of Dermatologists annual campaign to raise awareness of skin cancer. The campaign runs from April to September annually and includes Sun Awareness Week in May. The campaign is two-pronged and combines prevention and detection advice. The first aim is to encourage people to regularly self-examine for skin cancer.
The second is to teach people about the dangers of sunburn and excessive tanning. It’s also to discourage people from using sunbeds, in light of the associated risks of skin cancer. In addition to public education about the dangers of sunbed use, the BAD has also been involved in campaigning for legislation to regulate the sunbed industry.
The parts we have to put in to show you how serious sun damage can be
According to No Time To Lose, “Worldwide, non-melanoma skin cancer is the most frequently diagnosed cancer, with an estimated 2-3 million cases registered every year. In Britain, there are at least 1,500 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer and 240 new cases of malignant melanoma linked to solar radiation exposure at work diagnosed each year.”
How dangerous is the UK sun?
Tropical climates with soaring temperatures are what we could all do with this year. But how many of you end up snoozing through the first few days abroad? Forgetting once or twice to apply sun cream from your sunlounger slumber, before emerging from the pre-dinner shower looking like an unappetizing tub of vanilla and strawberry swirl ice cream?
We’re not saying in any way that the British sunshine isn’t equally as dangerous as the rays abroad. In fact, let’s #tbt to last June when temperatures topped 36C and the Met Office warned that UV levels reached ‘eight’ across many places. According to Jim Dale, meteorologist for British Weather Services, we’re again set to see some spikes of heat heading into the summer of 2021. Great thing that this is the Year of the Staycation, then!
I know what you’re thinking: burning in Britain isn’t as bad as burning abroad, right? But that’s where you’re wrong. There are many factors to support the notion that any sunburn is bad, but first, let’s take a look at UV rays. According to public health matters: “A sunburn is the sign of damage to the body from over-exposure to UV radiation and may lead to premature skin ageing. It isn’t just in the summer or on holiday that we can suffer the ill effects of the sun.”
Sun and UV rays 10 easy steps
We explain below the leading government body’s take on UV rays and how we as humans react to them:
- The Earth has a stratosphere that has protected us for aeons against the sun’s ultraviolet radiation
- This is called the ozone layer. It’s a strip of our atmosphere which absorbs the majority of the sun’s UV radiation
- Every once in a while, the ozone layer thins, allowing greater levels of UV radiation to penetrate to earth through gaps
- This is more of a problem for people who live in the northern hemisphere, especially around springtime
- At the beginning of spring, the nation hasn’t seen much sunlight over winter and therefore experienced very few UV rays
- We slowly acclimatise to higher levels of UV over summer, allowing us to tolerate it as the summer months draw nearer
- As summer gets closer, we naturally spend more time outdoors, and the sun’s UV rays get stronger
- But we acclimatise to this, with our tolerance increasing almost on par with the strength of the UV rays
- But the problem is when we’re exposed to great levels of UV during springtime due to lower levels of ozone in the stratosphere
- Sudden exposure to a higher level of UV than people are used to is a sore case for sunburn, This is simply down to the fact that we aren’t ready for sun, or such short, sharp bursts of UV rays.
How to avoid unseasonal sunburn (yes this is a thing)
Here are some easy steps for you to follow to keep your risk of sunburn in springtime down:
- Stay savvy about the periods when UV rays are at their strongest via the Met Office weather forecast
- Add an extra layer if you’re outdoors for long. Cover up during activities where it’s easy to get sidetracked with the task at hand such as gardening, reading, snoozing, or labouring outdoors
- Have some fun with the UV measurement tool which can be found here
- Don’t be a fool and think that if the sun’s hidden behind clouds, you won’t get burned. This is not a thing. UV may still be high and you may still get burned.
- Try making a fashion statement with an umbrella – for shade from the sun, not from the rain
- Bear in mind children, babies, and those with fairer skin will need to cover up more
Whatever the weather (literally), perhaps holidaying at home in the current baltic climate will incline us to think twice about baring our scantily clad bodies on the beach.
What about suncream – does that still exist?
According to the BDA, 8 out of 10 people don’t apply suncream before sunbathing. Furthering that, 80% of us fail to apply it at all prior to a sun-basking sesh…but then apply it afterwards?! The experts highlighted a threefold criterion. One, make sure that the product is fully absorbed before the skin is exposed to the sun. Two, reduce the chances of areas of skin being missed. And three, ensure a thick enough layer is applied.
Listen to the experts and reapply that sunscreen every two hours – something that 70% of us admitted we didn’t do! Don’t forget to clue up on your SPFs (sun protection factor) which tells you how long the sun’s UVB rays would take to redden your skin. So, if you use an SPF 30 product properly, it would take you 30 times longer to burn than if you used no sunscreen. No matter which SPF you use, you really should reapply your sunscreen every two hours or after every swim in the sea or pool.
So what does suncream actually do?
Whatever you call it – ‘suncream, sunscreen, sunblock’ – the handy little liquid does exactly what it says on the tin. It screens, blocks (actually, ‘creams’ doesn’t really work here, does it?) the sun from your precious skin. To get all scientific: “Sunscreen works by blocking and absorbing UV rays through a combination of physical and chemical particles. Physical particles, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, are used to reflect UV radiation from the skin. At the same time, complex chemical ingredients in sunscreen react with radiation before it penetrates the skin, absorbing the rays and releasing the energy as heat.”
In other words, it’s really good for you – but sunblock/cream/screen alone isn’t enough to keep you protected 100%. It can certainly minimise your risk of cancer and ageing. It can also reduce your risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) by about 40% and lower your melanoma risk by 50%. But you will need to do additional things to protect yourself against the sun.
How else can I protect myself against the sun?
The majority of us would savour the sunshine right now. But when it’s scorching for days on end in summer, it seems the grass is always greener, quite literally, in the spring when it’s not parched. That being said, here are some pointers on how to stay safe in the sun this summer:
- By all means, enjoy the sun. Just try to find some shade when the sun is at its strongest between 11am – 2pm.
- Use factor 15 suncream, minimum
- Stay hydrated
- Keep babies 6 months and under out of direct sunlight
- Infants should be kept out of the sun as much as possible
- Wear loose cool clothes
- Ventilate and shade off your rooms to create cool spaces during the day
- Re-apply that sunscreen!
Please, go out and enjoy the sun – when it’s here! But do bear in mind how serious sun damage can be. Making those integral changes won’t be too hard but they can be life-changing.