The Facts About Exposure to Sun

How to prevent and treat sunburn

With the unpredictable great British summer upon us, it is tempting to make the most of the sun when it is shining. Sun exposure is a source of vitamin D for your body. Your diet alone will not provide you with the level of vitamin D that you need for strong bones and even the prevention of serious diseases such as cancer. The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) states that you should not avoid the sun completely to ensure your body has sufficient levels of vitamin D.  Therefore, there is benefit from getting some sun exposure as long as you are aware of the dangers and follow advice to prevent sunburn.

Facts about sun exposure

  • UV radiation from the sun is in 3 wavelengths; UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA and UVB enter the earth’s atmosphere but UVC does not. UVA can penetrate the skin more deeply and can cause photo-ageing. UVB causes sunburn and is strongly linked to different forms of skin cancer – malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
  • SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’. The higher the SPF factor the higher the protection from UVB. This usually ranges from SPF  15 to SPF 50+
  • UVA star rating is present on sun cream that protects from UVA rays. The more stars the higher the protection ratio between UVA and UVB. If a low SPF sun cream has a high UVA star rating, you may not be getting a high level of UVA protection; it just indicates the level of UVA and UVB is the same.

Label

SPF

Low protection

6 and 10

Medium protection

15, 20, 25

High protection

30 and 50

Very high protection

50+

Table of SPF protection

 

Signs & Symptoms

  • Mild – pain, itchy feeling, skin feels warm and looks red
  • Severe – skin is red and blistering, pain and tingling, swelling, headache, nausea, fever, feeling cold and dizzy

What should I do if I burn?

  • Remove yourself from further exposure immediately
  • Have a cool shower or bath (not too cold)
  • Ensure extra fluid is taken consistently for the next 2-3 days
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers, like ibuprofen or paracetamol
  • Use moisturising lotions containing aloe vera to soothe your skin
  • Emergency medical care should be sought if any of the above severe signs and symptoms are evident

Prevention

  • Wear protective clothing such as caps, hats and sunglasses (with UV protection)
  • Minimise exposure to the sun
  • Apply sun cream with a minimum of SPF 15 between 15 and 30 minutes before sun exposure and reapply every 2 hours
  • Remember to reapply sun cream if the skin gets wet or you sweat
  • Keep new born babies out of the sun completely. Sun cream should only be used on babies over the age of 6 months

Remember, for the best protection, apply sun cream that has high SPF protection and a high star UVA rating and limit the amount of time spent in the sun.