Life Health & Wellbeing

Saturday 21 September 2019

10 ways to be sunsmart this summer

The weather's finally getting warmer and thoughts are turning to the beach. Make sure you're properly protected, writes Julia Molony


While we may not typically have long hot summer days, we still need to get smart with our sunscreen and heat protection. The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) has said cases of skin cancer have jumped by 70pc between 2005 and 2015 in Ireland, and the charity has launched its annual SunSmart campaign, reminding people of the importance of protecting their skin over the coming months. Here are top 10 tips to help you keep sunsmart.

1 There's an App for that

The British Association of Dermatologists recently launched the World UV app. Download it to your phone and you'll have real-time information about daily UV levels on 10,000 locations across the world at your fingertips as well as tips on sun protection and info about individual skin types. The app will alert you when UV rays are at damaging levels. According to the Irish Skin Foundation, whenever the UV index is reported as being 3+ whether at home or abroad, you need to take steps to protect your skin. They add that even in Ireland, you should make sun protection "part of your daily routine, particularly from the end of March to September, when the intensity of sunburn producing UV radiation is greatest.''

2 Observe the 5 Ss

Slip Slop Slap was the sun protection mantra popularised in Australia in the 1980s and with good reason; Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Now it's been updated and has been adopted as the official slogan of the Irish Skin Foundation. It's a simple way to remember the most important things you can do to protect yourself when you're in the sun: Slip on a T-Shirt with a collar; Slop on broad spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+ with high UVA protection, and water resistant if you intend to swim; Slap on a wide-brimmed hat; Slide on sunglasses with UV protection; and Seek shade, especially between 11am and 3pm, when UV rays are strongest.

3 Skip the Once-A-Day sunscreen

Sunscreens which claim to resist rays for a full day of 8-10 hours on the beach with only one application are best avoided because they may lull you into a false sense of security, according to advice from Melanoma Awareness Ireland. The reason? Most of us don't apply sunscreen perfectly, missing spots or not using enough of the product. It's also possible for the cream to rub off on towels or with activity, leaving areas of skin vulnerable to the sun's rays for much longer periods of time than with standard sunscreens.

4 Know your Risk

The risk of developing skin cancer is not the same for everybody. Those who have the classic Irish appearance of red or fair hair with very pale skin and lots of freckles have the type of skin (type I on the Fitzpatrick scale used by dermatologists) which is most vulnerable to harmful damage from the sun's rays. In Ireland, we're often guilty of underestimating our susceptibility to sunburn. "Research indicates that those with fairer skin often judge themselves to be darker than they actually are and as a consequence, underestimate their vulnerability to the harmful effects of overexposure to ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun," according to information from the Irish Skin Foundation. "Findings from a recent Irish study carried out by Drs Havelin and Feighery in the Dermatology Department of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda, and presented at the Irish Association of Dermatologists spring meeting 2017, found that the majority (66pc) of patients questioned, underestimated their skin's sensitivity to sunlight."

Other factors that increase the risk of malignant melanoma include having a family history of the disease, having a suppressed immune system, or having a large number of moles, particularly if they are atypical moles. Outdoor workers also need to take extra care as they receive 5-10 times more UV exposure than indoor workers.

5 Don't stint on the lotion

How much sunscreen you use is as important as which one you use. Most of us underestimate the amount necessary to ensure good coverage. Each key body part needs at least one teaspoon to be well covered. That means one for your head (including face and neck) one for each arm and each leg, one for the front of your torso and one for the back. Even if applied perfectly, you shouldn't rely on suncreen for protection against strong sunlight, especially between 11am and 3pm in summer months. Better to cover up and seek shade.

6 Boost your vitamin D without risking the burn 

According to guidelines from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) in the UK, a small amount of sensible sun exposure is important for good health. UVB is required for the skin to produce vitamin D which is essential for bone health. Research suggests it may also offer some protection against chronic diseases. "Exposing commonly uncovered areas of skin such as forearms and hands, for short periods when in strong sunlight provides vitamin D," says NICE.

How long it takes your skin to start to produce vitamin D depends on your skin tone - fair skin reacts quickly, darker skin requires more time. As a guide, the British Association of Dermatologists say that the "time required to make sufficient vitamin D is typically short and less than the amount of time needed for skin to redden and burn. Regularly going outside for a matter of minutes around the middle of the day without sunscreen should be enough. When it comes to sun exposure, little and often is best, and the more skin that is exposed, the greater the chance of making sufficient vitamin D before burning."

7 Don't be a statistic

Skin cancer is on the rise. About 160 people die from malignant melanoma (the most deadly form of the disease) every year in Ireland compared to 60 deaths per year in the 1990s. New research published in the National Cancer Registry last year reported 11,000 cases of skin cancer diagnosed per year. About 1,000 of these are malignant melanoma, which has almost trebled in incidence over a period of 20 years.

This increase is most likely attributed to changing lifestyle habits, such as holidaying abroad. While malignant melanoma occurs equally in both sexes, rates are rising fastest in men, and men and the elderly tend to be diagnosed at a later stage in their disease.

8 Add a second coat

A double layer of sunscreen works best. "If someone plans to be out in the sun long enough to risk burning, sunscreen needs to be applied twice to exposed areas of skin: half an hour before, and again around the time they go out in the sun. This includes the face, neck and ears (and head if someone has thinning or no hair)" says the UK's National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

9 Know your UVA from your UVB

The two types of ultraviolet radiation that pass unfiltered through the ozone layer and cause skin damage are UVA and UVB. When choosing a sunscreen, it's important to go for one that provides protection against both UVA and UVB. Choose one with a high SPF and a high star rating, which denotes the percentage of UVA protection in comparison to UVB. "Sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of four or five stars is generally considered as a good standard of sun protection in addition to shade and clothing," says the British Association of Dermatologists.

10 Don't be fooled by a cloudy day

Over 90pc of UV rays can penetrate light cloud. "Even if it is cool or cloudy, it is possible to burn in the middle of the day in summer. It is also possible to burn at other times of the day and year," according to NICE.

* Seek shade when UV rays are at their strongest. Generally between 11am-3pm.

* Wear a shirt with a collar & long shorts, and a hat that gives shade to your face, neck and ears.

* Wear wraparound glasses and make sure they offer UV protection. 

* Slop on sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and re-apply every two hours - more often if swimming or perspiring. › Sunscreen should have a minimum SPF of 30 and offer UVA protection.

* Keep babies under six months out of the sun.

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