It's about that time again - the summer holiday is almost here! And that means going outside, having barbecues and perhaps even a relaxing beach vacation somewhere warm.
But this also means that it's the season in which many Brits will get terrible sunburns from spending too much time in the sun – a dangerous thing to do. Because skin cancer is becoming an ever greater problem in this country. Approximately 2,550 people die from skin cancer every year in the UK, and this number has seen a sharp rise in recent years. A shocking fact, that affirms how essential it is to take care of your skin. It's our largest organ! In part three of Flight-Delayed's 'summer travel guide', we compile useful tips for safe sunbathing.
Common myths: Vitamin D, tanning and radiation
1: It's an argument often heard: we need vitamin D, so frying your skin is healthy! It is true that sunshine stimulates the production of vitamin D, but in reality the average person only needs about 15 to 20 minutes of sun a day to get a sufficient amount of these vitamins. You could get that walking to the tube or the supermarket! So frying on the beach really isn't necessary, and it's even detrimental to your health.
2: Another excuse people have not to put lotion on: 'I won't tan!' It's just another myth, because you can get a tan even when using sunscreen. The SPF will simply protect you from getting burnt, meaning you will even tan more evenly and gradually, and retain your colour longer.
3: A third misconception is that radiation isn't able to reach your skin and do its damage when you already have a 'layer of tan' on your skin. Wrong! It is true that you won't burn as easily, but: not all damage is immediately visible and radiation will still be able to penetrate this layer and damage your skin. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to predict when healthy skin cells will develop in malignant ones and start multiplying after exposure to radiation, so the best cure is prevention.
Sunscreen: which SPF, how much?
Tests show that people tend to underestimate the amount of sunscreen they need to use. As a result, they aren't adequately protected; economical use of sunscreen results in a much lower degree of SPF than what's indicated on the bottle. The advice is to slather on a thick layer of lotion: a handful each time.
When choosing an SPF, age, skin type and the length of exposure need to be taken into account. Children up to the age of 4 are hypersensitive to radiation, as the protective epidermis is not yet formed in children before that point. But it's always a good idea to use an SPF of at least 30 with both UVA and UVB blockers for children younger than 16. Because people who burn once or more as a child have a highly increased risk of getting skin cancer at a later age. And using SPF 50 is also not an exaggeration for adults: for those with skin type 1 (light skin, burns easily) the recommended SPF is 30 to 50.
But it's also important to keep in mind that you're not completely protected even if you are wearing sunscreen with a high SPF: even then, it's key to avoid direct sunlight as much as possible and this means no 'frying'. In any case, it's wise to avoid the sun between 11:00 and 16:00 during summer. By the way, did you know that sunscreen can spoil? After having been opened 1 or 2 years, the SPF will reduce significantly – especially if the bottle was exposed to the sun or to heat.
How to apply sunscreen and how often?
The protection in sunscreen doesn't take effect immediately, which is why it is advised to put it on 30 minutes prior to exposure to the sun. The lotion then needs to be reapplied every two hours. What must also be taken into account is that the protection will decrease due to contact with clothes or for instance sand – even if you're using waterproof lotion. You are also likely to sweat off part of the SPF. It's a known fact that water and other reflecting surfaces can reflect radiation onto you, so keep that in mind also.
As mentioned before, using lotion alone isn't enough: even with an SPF of 50 (applied 30 minutes in advance and using a good handful), you can't safely sit or walk in the sun all day. Find extra protection in the shape of a parasol, hat (mainly for the scalp but also for the face and vulnerable skin of the ears), a good pair of sunglasses with UV filter, and of course clothing. Many think that they need not worry about radiation when they're covered up, but even that's not the case: most clothing only equates to an SPF of 5 to 15. So you may want to consider using sunscreen underneath your clothes as well, or purchasing special clothing with a built-in SPF.
Apart from following these tips, keep your skin and body hydrated while you are in the sun and afterwards – so drink plenty of water (alcohol and caffeinated drinks don't count!) and use a good (after sun) lotion before you go to sleep at night.
On behalf of the Flight-Delayed team: have lots of (safe) fun in the sun this summer!