So spring is here, spring fever has hit, and you’re itching to get outdoors. After what seems like months of cold, dank days of wintertime the sun has finally come out to shine.
But as the warm months come and we spend more time outside enjoying the beautiful weather you must take care and keep safe in the sun especially when it comes to your skin.
Over the winter you’ll have had your skin covered by coats and mittens with only your face exposed to the elements. Hopefully, you've been using a daily face moisturiser with SPF protection.
When you step out into the spring sunshine wearing less clothes your skin is pale and unused to the sun’s rays. Many people are caught out when enjoying these first rays, often exposing their skin to the sun for too long without protection. The spring sunshine can be hotter than you think and the UV radiation is intensifying as we get nearer to the summer. This increases the risk of sunburn and skin damage.
What is ultraviolet radiation?
Sunlight has two harmful rays that reach the earth called ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. UVA radiation, the A of which stands for aging, penetrates the deeper layers of your skin. It is responsible for premature aging, skin cancer, and wrinkles.
UVB radiation, the B of which stands for burning, is responsible for the production of vitamin D in our bodies, but overexposure causes damage to your skin, mostly the top layer. It is responsible for skin cancer and sunburns.
Throughout the year, and even during the day, the strength of UV radiation changes. In spring and summer, the tilt of the earth’s axis means that we are "pointed" more towards the sun. This offers a more direct path for the sun’s UV radiation, resulting in it being very strong when it hits the earth.
The amount of UV radiation reaching the earth is highest when the sun is high in the sky between 11am and 1pm as the distance it has to travel is shortest for that day.
What can you do to protect yourself?
It’s important for everybody to take the sun seriously. From heat rash, polymorphous light eruption, skin damage, ageing and wrinkles through to skin cancer, the sun can cause many problems. You can use a combination of measures including shade, clothing and sunscreen to best protect yourself against over exposure to UV radiation from the sun.
Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest
In the UK, the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm from March to October. You can use the “Shadow Rule” as a simple guide to determine if you should be in the shade. If your shadow is shorter than you are this means the sun is high in the sky and the intensity of the UV radiation is strong. If your shadow is taller than you are, the sun is not very high up and the UV radiation reaching you is not at its strongest level.
You should also choose your shade structure carefully as the amount of shade offered varies. A tree with dense foliage will protect you much better than a parasol. Many shade structures only filter rather than block the UV radiation.
Cover up with clothes, hats and sunglasses
Suitable clothes can offer you protection from UV radiation. Try to choose dark-coloured clothes, made of synthetic fabrics that have a close weave or are knitted as these offer the best protection. Some fabrics when wet can lose up to half of their protection.
Wide-brimmed and Legionnaires hats offer UV protection for your whole face and head. Caps only protect your nose and forehead.
It’s best to buy sunglasses that block out 100% of UVA and UVB rays and make sure they fit well. Wraparound sunglasses are ideal.
Use at least factor 15 sunscreen
The SPF or ‘factor’ of a sunscreen is a measure of the amount of sun protection it provides. In the UK, NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) recommends a minimum of SPF 15.
Sunscreen should be applied evenly, thickly and regularly to be effective. For just your face and arms you probably need about two teaspoons of sun cream and for all your body you will need about two tablespoons.
It’s best to choose a “broad-spectrum” sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. The star system reflects the UVA protection and it’s recommended that you choose a sunscreen with at least four stars of UVA protection.
Sunscreen does not offer full protection so it’s best to combine it with shade and clothing options.
Take extra care with children
Babies and children need extra protection as their delicate skin is easily damaged. Babies under six months of age should be kept out of direct sunlight especially at the hottest times of the day and protected using shade, sun protective clothing and hats.