How to Protect your Skin in the Sun

With the welcomed return of some sunshine in recent days and the school holidays soon approaching, Summer is well and truly underway here in Ireland. With the increased temperatures here and the increased numbers of people traveling abroad for a sun holiday, I want to remind customers about the importance of protecting your skin from the sun.

The sun emits two types of dangerous rays, UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays are unfiltered through the atmosphere and so are always present, even when there is cloud coverage. These rays are extremely powerful, capable of passing through glass, and penetrate deep into the dermis layer of the skin. They are the main cause of premature aging, sun spots and leathery skin. Until recently scientists didn’t believe they caused significant damage to the epidermis where most skin cancers occur, however now it is understood UVA contributes to the development of skin cancers. UVB rays are filtered through the atmosphere and so only present when there is direct sunlight with little clouds/pollution to block them out. However, UVB rays can still burn and damage your skin in the winter months, especially at high altitudes and on reflective surfaces such as snow or ice, which bounce back up to 80 percent of the rays so that they hit the skin twice. UVB rays are not as strong as UVA rays, as they are unable to pass through glass and only penetrate to the epidermis layer of the skin. However they can be more dangerous, as they are the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer.

When it comes to protecting your skin from UV rays, you must wear sun cream with an appropriate SPF. I have heard some confusion around SPF’s in the pharmacy so let me quickly clarify this. If you use a sun cream with an SPF 15, you can be in the sun 15 times longer than you can without sun cream before burning. For example, if your skin would normally burn after 10 minutes in the sun, applying an SPF 15 sun cream would allow you to stay in the sun without burning for approximately 150 minutes. This is a rough estimate that depends on skin type, intensity of sunlight and amount of sun cream used. My golden rule for sun protection is to apply your sun cream 30 minutes before going in the sun and to reapply every two hours to ensure sufficient protection.

With that I have a few tips to help protect your skin:

  1. Wear sun cream – Choose a broad spectrum sun cream that protects against UVA and UVB radiation. While other sun creams may prevent you from getting sunburnt, they won’t protect against skin cancer. Make sure it’s water resistant and has an SPF of 30 or higher. And remember to apply your sun cream 30 minutes before going in the sun and to reapply every two hours to ensure sufficient protection.
  2. Wear sunglasses – Our eyes are sensitive and so prolonged exposure to the sun can result in a range of varied damage to the eye. To help protect them, invest in a good quality pair of sunglasses with 100% UVA and UVB protection. Polarised sunglasses can also be a great investment to help reduce glare.
  3. Limit the time you spend in the sun – While being out in the sun with an applied sun cream is all well and fine, during the hottest part of the day when the sun is at it’s highest, between midday and 4pm, it is best to spend some time in the shade. This is particularly true if you are fair skinned and tend to burn easily.
  4.  Beware of the effect of medications – When taking medications such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, antihistamines, acne treatments or blood pressure medications, be aware that your skin may be more sensitive to the sun. Take precautionary measures and wear a stronger SPF or seek the shade to help protect your skin from the harmful UV rays.

For more information about how to be smart in the sun, visit the Irish Cancer Society’s website and their dedicated sun section here.