Key Sun Safety Tips - In Time For Summer

General Medical

Dr. Preya Alexander

Sun safety is something you may think you have completely covered, and you might be right but here are some key factors people don’t often realise when it comes to protecting skin from the sun’s harmful effects:

  • Skin cancer risk is closely linked with sun exposure. Many people don’t realise that a single episode of blistering sunburn in childhood increases the risk of melanoma
  • If skin cancer doesn’t frighten you (and it should because it isn’t always as simple as excising the lesion = problem solved particularly when it comes to melanoma), then signs of ageing might! Sun exposure is a big factor when it comes to signs of ageing. UVA rays in sunlight penetrate deep into the dermis (the lower layers of the skin) and can damage collagen. Collagen is the stuff in your skin that makes it look plump. Repeated sunlight exposure can lead to destruction of collagen and signs of ageing such as wrinkling
  • For incidental sun exposure, day to day, a daily facial moisturiser with SPF coverage is usually adequate. Applying this to the face/neck area daily if you are someone who receives incidental sun exposure in the day (you work indoors for instance) is usually enough
  • If you work outdoors and are exposure to sunlight more than the normal incidental exposures (construction worker/ sports teacher) than a broad-spectrum sunscreen is recommended where you receive protection from both UVA and UVB rays in sunlight
  • And now we get to one of my favourite parts– the difference between UVA and UVB rays and why they both matter! In sunlight there are UVA and UVB rays that are both be harmful to skin. UVB rays tend to affect the top layers of the skin and it’s these rays that cause the redness and soreness you may experience if you suffer from sunburn. UVA rays, however, tend to affect the deeper layers of the skin (the collagen we discussed before). Both UVA and UVB rays contribute to skin cancer risk
  • For children sun safety advice varies according to age. For children under 6 months of age the advice is to avoid sun exposure completely (cover skin, aim for shade for instance). Sunscreen use is generally not recommended in children under 6 months of age as the skin is more sensitive and more likely to absorb chemicals present in sunscreens. However, if seeking shade and covering up is not possible then using sunscreen (safely) is better than risking sunburn! And it should be added that there is no evidence that suggests that using sunscreen in infants aged less than 6 months is actually harmful
  • Before using sunscreen on a child – always trial a product on a small area of skin (like the forearm) to ensure there is no reaction. If there is no redness or irritation after application, then you can give it a go!
  • Physical versus chemical sunscreens; the great debate! Physical sunscreens literally reflect UVA and UVB, stopping them from damaging the skin. These sunscreens tend to be thicker and harder to rub into the skin. The commonest one people may be familiar with is zinc oxide. Chemical sunscreens work by absorbing the UV rays instead; these sunscreens tend to be easier to rub into the skin. In terms of which sunscreen, you, and your family, choose to use – it’s a personal choice and as long as you use it, you are nailing it!
  • The most common errors I see being made when it comes to sun safety:
    • People forget to reapply sunscreen 2 hourly; yes, if you are outdoors (at the beach or pool) reapplication of sunscreen 2- hourly is recommended!
    • People often forget the odd spots like the tops of the ears, the back of the neck and the backs of the hands. These are common areas we see skin cancers – so don’t forget to pop sunscreen in those odd spots as well!
  • Sun safety is key when it comes to reducing skin cancer risk. And like I said before, if skin cancer doesn’t scare you then perhaps signs of ageing does. Whatever it takes – aim for shade, wear a hat and lather on the sunscreen (and reapply 2 hourly)!


Dr Preeya Alexander
Please note: Dr. Preeya's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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