Although we only had short bursts of glorious sunshine in April, it’s still important to prepare for the sunny days to come! We know there are many benefits from being outdoors: physical activity, fresh air, and sunshine promoting vitamin D production, which is important in many bodily processes. However, there are harmful effects of overdoing exposure: sunburn, rashes, prickly heat and of course, skin cancer, which is the focus of Sun Awareness Week (May 3-9th 2021).
What are UV rays?
UVA affects the body’s elastin, leading to wrinkles and leathery brown skin associated with skin ageing, as well as skin cancer.
UVB is the form of irradiation most responsible for sunburn and is linked to malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma – both are skin cancers.
How do sunscreens work?
Sunscreens protect in two ways; as organic filter ‘absorbers’ absorbing the harmful UV rays, and as inorganic filters or ‘reflectors’ – containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, reflecting UV radiation away.
Sun Protection Factor SPF (6-50+) primarily shows the level of protection against UVB, therefore you should also check the UVA star rating on the product (0-5).
Sunscreens need to be applied after exposure to water, sweating, towel drying and any abrasions. The British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) recommends reapplication every two hours.
It can be difficult to determine how much sunshine an individual should get to generate a healthy vitamin D level without getting sun damage. BAD recommends increasing dietary and vitamin D supplementation for all (at least 400 IU a day or 10 micrograms), rather than sunbathing.
Tanning occurs after skin exposed to sunlight induces pigment cells to produce more melanin pigment in an attempt to absorb further UV radiation – a sign the skin is trying to protect itself from further damage.
Sunburn is inflammatory damage to skin cells and DNA which, after repeated damage, can lead to cancer. One severe case of blistering sunburn in childhood can significantly increase the skin cancer risk when older.
People with an increased risk of skin cancer:
- Fair skin (or freckles) that burns easily
- Red or fair hair
- Personal or family history
- Lots of moles (> 50)
- Immunosuppression treatment.
Sun safety tips:
- Stay in the shade between 11am-3pm
- Avoid burning
- Cover up with clothing
- Use at least SPF 30
- Keep under 6 month olds out of direct sunlight.
See your GP if any of these changes occur.
Dr. Yuheng Zhou
Teddington Resident & Paediatric Consultant