First published June 2017; updated May 2019
Before you pack up the family or jet away to sunnier climes, spare a thought for your vulnerable skin! Most people living in Ireland have skin type 1 or 2 which means they are particularly at risk from too much sun exposure. Did you know that too much sun leads to skin ageing, including wrinkles and unsightly spots, or that you can get sunburnt on a cloudy day and even under the water!
Here’s a few ‘top tips’ to keep your skin in ‘tip top’ shape:
Remember A for ageing and B for burning
The sun is a source of ultraviolet (UV) radiation and there are two types we need to know about: UVA and UVB.
UVA rays penetrate more deeply through the layers of the skin than UVB. Think A for ageing – UVA is associated with skin ageing as well as skin cancer. Did you know that UVA can pass through window glass and is present year round, even on cloudy days.
Think B for burning -UVB rays are mainly responsible for sunburn but can’t pass through window glass. UVB is strongly associated with two types of skin cancer – malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma. More about UV here.
Sunscreens act like mirrors or sponges
Sunscreens help protect our skin by filtering out the sun’s UV rays. Depending on their active ingredients, sunscreen can act like a mirror, reflecting UV radiation away from the skin (e.g. when it contains filters such as titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) or a sponge, and absorb UV radiation.
Sunscreen labelling – what to look out for
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and shows the degree of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB only. It is rated on a scale from 2-50+. Remember, the higher the factor, the greater the level of protection against UVB.
Protection against UVA is often indicated by a star system or a UVA logo enclosed within a circle. The higher the number of stars, the greater the level of protection.
What dermatologists recommend
Choose a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30+, with high UVA protection (ideally 4 or 5 stars), and water-resistant if you intend on swimming, in addition to protective clothing and shade.
Most people don’t apply sunscreen correctly – here’s how it’s done:
- Correct amount: you should apply at least 1 teaspoon to each body part – Head/Face/Neck ; Each Arm ; Each Leg ; Your Front ; Your Back
- Correct locations: don’t forget your ears, your neck, your nose, the tops of your feet and (if your hair is thinning) your scalp!
- Correct timing: apply sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before you go out in the sun
- Correct frequency: reapply sunscreen frequently (at least every 2 hours), especially if you are exercising or swimming, or after towel drying
- Correct use: don’t be lulled into a false sense of security! Sunscreen should not be your main method of sun protection – you should also seek shade (particularly between 11am -3pm when UV rays are strongest) and wear sun protective clothing
Know your skin type
A person’s natural skin colour influences their vulnerability to sun damage and risk of skin cancer so it’s a good idea to know your skin type, to get a better sense of the care you need to take in the sun. More here.
Some people think a tan is healthy! NOT TRUE! A tan indicates that skin has been damaged by UV radiation, this damage is cumulative!
UV radiation passes through clouds, glass and water!
Just because it’s cloudy doesn’t mean you are shielded from the sun. Over 90% of UV can pass through light cloud, at half a metre depth under water UV is still 40% as intense as at the surface, and some UV can pass through glass! Learn more here.
Your risk of sunburn depends on your location, the time of year and time of day. Severe sunburns, especially in childhood, can lead to skin cancer including melanoma. So remember, no sunbaking and no sun burning.
5 steps to treating sunburn
- Use a moisturiser to help soothe sunburned skin. Try storing it in the fridge so it feels cool on application.
- Stay hydrated by drinking extra water.
- Consider taking aspirin or ibuprofen to reduce swelling, redness and discomfort.
- If your skin blisters, leave the blisters intact to help the skin heal and to reduce the risk of infection.
- Take extra care to protect your skin while it heals by avoiding the sun and wearing protective clothing.
Watch the UV index
The Global Solar UV index is a scale that was developed by the World Health Organisation which measures the UV radiation level at the surface of the Earth, and gives an indication of the potential for skin damage.
When the UV index is 3 or above, you need to protect your skin. Stay safe by limiting time in the midday sun when UV is strongest, typically between the hours of 11:00am-3:00pm.
Remember the 5 ‘Ss’ of sun safety:
- Slip on clothing: Cover skin as much as possible e.g. wear long sleeves, collared t-shirts, clothes made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through.
- Slop Slop on broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+ for adults and 50+ for children, with high UVA protection, and water resistant. Reapply regularly.
- Slap on a hat with a wide brim: Protect your face, ears and neck.
- Slide on sunglasses with UV protection: Guard your eyes from harm.
- Seek shade: Sit in cover of trees to avoid direct sunlight and use a sunshade on your buggy or pram. Keep babies and children out of direct sunlight.
We want everyone in Ireland to learn to Protect & Inspect their skin! Read our short guide, written with hospital-based dermatologists, to checking your skin.