The sun’s rays play an important role in encouraging our bodies to produce vitamin D, crucial for keeping bones, teeth and muscles healthy, and sun exposure has been linked to increased levels of the ’happy hormone’ serotonin. But the sun has a darker side too: skin cancer is still the most common form of cancer in the UK, and rates continue to rise. At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed each year, and the disease kills over 2,500 people in the UK a year – that’s seven people a day , and more than enough reason to be ‘sun smart’. Here are our top tips for staying safe in the sun.
Even if you’re not sunbathing, your skin is still exposed to the sun at this time of year, and sun exposure – whether pottering in the garden, going for a walk in the park or popping to the shops, all adds up. A good sun cream is your first line of defence against the sun’s harmful rays.
An SPF (Skin Protection Factor) of 30 will block approximately 95 per cent of UVB rays, while SPF 50 will block around 97 per cent. There are plenty to choose from, but astonishingly, statistics show a quarter of us Brits still don’t wear sun cream in the summer!
As a guide, you should aim to apply around two teaspoons of sunscreen if you're just covering your head, arms and neck, and two tablespoons if you're covering your entire body while wearing a swimming costume. You should also reapply regularly throughout the day - most experts recommend at least every two hours, and straight after swimming, even if your sunscreen is ‘water resistant’.
And don't forget to protect your lips using a lip balm with built-in SPF .
Sunscreen should be applied to all exposed skin, including the face, neck and ears, and head if you have thinning or no hair, but a wide-brimmed hat is better.
Cover up any unprotected areas of skin with suitable, close-weave clothing that doesn’t allow sunlight to penetrate. Some clothing now includes details of the UPF (UV Protection Factor) on the label too.
And don’t forget to protect your peepers too. A day at the beach without proper eye protection can cause a temporary but painful burn to the surface of the eye, similar to sunburn. Reflected sunlight from sand, concrete and water, and artificial light from sunbeds, is particularly dangerous. Always wear sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection and avoid looking directly at the sun, as this can cause permanent eye damage.
Seek out the shade whenever possible and especially when the sun is at its hottest. In the UK, this is between 11am and 3pm from March to October. Do not spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.
Check the UV index
The UV index tells you how strong the UV rays are in your area on any given day. The higher the UV index, the easier it is for your skin to burn and become damaged. If the UV index in your area is above three, you’ll need to take extra steps to protect your skin. This is particularly important if you burn easily, or if you’re going outside for the first time after the winter months.
You can find out the UV index for where you are on the Met Office website .
Drink plenty of water
In hotter weather, your body sweats more to cool you down. So, it’s important to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. Aim to drink at least 6-8 glasses of water a day, and more if you’re feeling thirsty.
How to deal with sunburn
Too much sun? Unfortunately, it’s easily done. Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply a soothing after sun cream or spray. Aloe vera applied topically can be especially soothing. You should then stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.