The weather can be unpredictable in the UK – and sometimes pretty wet and miserable. So it’s only natural for many of us to make a beeline outside when the sun starts to shine, determined to enjoy every minute of the warmth and heat.
While we all need some time in the sun in order to get our daily dose of vitamin D, being unprotected or spending too long outside can start to be dangerous for our health.
In this blog we’re going to look at why it’s important to stay safe in the sun and how you can accomplish this.
Why is too much sun bad for your health?
In simple terms, the sun produces ultraviolet (UV) radiation that consists of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. Being exposed to too many of these rays can damage your skin and increase your risk of getting skin cancer.
Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK and Cancer Research UK reports that more than 150,000 new cases are diagnosed each year (non-melanoma). Exposure to UV rays is the main preventable cause of the diseases and over 80% of cases of melanoma (the most serious type of skin cancer) are linked to such overexposure.
Other health conditions linked to too much time in the sun include things like heat stroke, heat rash and heat exhaustion.
How can you protect yourself when you’re outside?
While the potential health implications might be sobering to read, the good news is that there’s plenty you can do to keep yourself safe in the sun this summer!
1. Apply sun cream (regularly)
A good quality sun cream will help to prevent your skin from burning. The NHS recommends using one that has a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and a UVA protection level of at least four stars (UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle).
Apply the cream 30 minutes before you go outside and reapply it every couple of hours, making sure you get good coverage each time (including your face). If you’re planning on going swimming or think you might get a bit sweaty, it’s worth going for a cream that’s water resistant – although you’ll still need to reapply it straight after you’ve been in the water.
If you’re thinking of reusing an old cream, make sure to check the expiry date first as sun cream that’s out of date won’t be as effective.
And finally, don’t be fooled by an overcast sky! You can burn just as easily on a sunny day with clouds than on a sunny day with a clear blue sky, so keep that sun cream to hand.
2. Wear suitable clothing and a wide-brimmed hat
While sun cream is a great start, you shouldn’t just rely on it to protect yourself from the sun – particularly if you’ve got skin that’s prone to burning. Wearing loose clothes made from breathable fabrics can provide cover while not making you too hot. You can even get clothes that offer UV protection by blocking a certain level of harmful radiation!
Add in a wide-brimmed hat with a tight weave to provide extra protection for your face, scalp, neck, ears and shoulders. The skin on your face is particularly sensitive – and it’s easy to miss bits when you apply your sun cream – so this is a simple way to cover all your bases.
3. Wear sunglasses
Your eyes are also sensitive to UV rays and a day out in the sun without proper eye protection can cause a kind of sunburn on the surface of your eyes. Keep them safe by investing in a pair of sunglasses that have good quality lenses, have a CE mark or British Standard Mark and offer 100% UV protection.
4. Seek shade
Even with all the above precautions, the NHS still recommends spending some time in the shade on a sunny day. This is particularly important between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest, and if you’re very fair skinned as that will make you more susceptible to burning (it can take just 10 minutes in strong sunshine to burn pale skin).
Gazebos, umbrellas and parasols are particularly good ways to create shade whether you’re in your garden, at the park or at the beach.
5. Stay hydrated
Your body likes to be a certain temperature and when you get too hot, it starts working to cool you down. The most visible evidence of this is sweating, where it’s the act of the sweat evaporating that helps to cool your skin. A side effect of this can be dehydration, which is what makes it essential to drink plenty of water when you’re out in the sunshine.
While a glass of water will do the job nicely at home, you might want to consider picking up a water bottle if you’re out-and-about. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes, and some also have extra insulation to keep drinks cooler for longer – perfect on a hot day.
With a little bit of prep work, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy the sun safely and comfortably this summer!