As part of our ongoing series of health columns, Dr Debbie Austin, High Peak GP and member of the Governing Body of NHS North Derbyshire Clinical Commissioning Group, talks about staying safe in the sun this summer.
With the summer holidays fast approaching, many of us will be looking forward to escaping the British weather for warmer lands.
Relaxing on holiday is good for our physical and mental health, especially when combined with exercise, a balanced diet and not too much alcohol. What’s more, a small amount of time in the sun can be beneficial because it provides our bodies with vitamin D – which helps control calcium and keep our bones and teeth healthy.
But sunbathing for long periods of time increases the risk of developing skin problems like skin cancer and premature ageing.
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics revealed that cancers caused by lifestyle choices including smoking, drinking and excessive sunbathing have soared in the past decade.
That’s why we all need to learn to be sun smart.
People with fair skin or red hair are likely to burn more quickly than people with darker skin while babies and young children are at particular risk from sunburn.
Sunburn is skin damage caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays. Too much exposure to UV light can make your skin red and painful, which can later lead to peeling or blistering. The symptoms can take up to five hours to appear.
Sunburn is normally associated with hot days and bright blue skies but sunlight can still damage your skin through cloudy skies or in a breeze.
Thankfully, there are a few simple things we can all do to protect our skin and ensure our holidays aren’t ruined by the misery of sunburn.
• Avoid strong sunlight as much as possible, especially between 11am and 3pm when the sun’s strongest.
• Cover up with loose clothing and a hat.
• Protect against the sun’s harmful rays by using a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15.
• Apply a generous amount of sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply at least every two to three hours. Reapply when you come out of the water, even if using a water-resistant sunscreen.
• Use a stick application with a high SPF on your nose, ears and lips as these areas tend to burn more easily.
• Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.
If you get sunburned, put a cold flannel over the affected area to cool the skin and apply moisturising lotions and creams to keep it moist. In cases of severe sunburn, you should speak to your pharmacist as you may need special treatment from your GP surgery.
Speak to your GP immediately if you notice changes in the size, colour or texture of any of your moles.
For lots more advice on staying safe in the sun, visit NHS Choices online and search for “sunburn”. The website also features a four-minute video on how to be sun smart.
Just for good measure, the website has information on staying healthy and safe this summer through heat waves, barbecues, hay fever, stings and in the swimming pool.
Other topics include heatstroke, sunbed safety and the benefits of vitamin D. There’s even a sunscreen factsheet.
Here’s wishing you all a safe, healthy and happy summer!