Column: Top tips to help you stay safe and keep sun savvy in summer

As the days get longer and the sun gets stronger, it’s time to think about enjoying the sun safely, writes Dr Tania Cork, chief operating officer of Community Pharmacy Derbyshire.

By Tania Cork
Friday, 20th May 2022, 12:00 am
Dr Tania Cork, chief operating officer of Community Pharmacy Derbyshire.
Dr Tania Cork, chief operating officer of Community Pharmacy Derbyshire.

Skin cancer is currently the most common cancer in the UK and rates are continuing to rise.

And you don’t have to be on holiday in the Mediterranean to be at risk – you can get sunburnt here in Derbyshire.

There are a few simple things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sunburnt, which increases the chances of developing skin cancer.

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How to stay safe in the sun this summer.

You do need some exposure to the sun to maintain Vitamin D levels and general health, but getting a tan doesn’t protect you from the sun’s harmful effects.

To help you find a balance between enjoying the sun and the risk of sunburn, we’ve pulled together five tips to help you stay safe but still enjoy your summer.

Find shade – the sun is at its strongest between 11am and 3pm from March to October. If you can, stay in the shade during these times.

Cover up – with suitable clothes, wide-brimmed hats and wear sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Protect children – their skin is more sensitive to the harmful effects of the sun.

Use sunscreen – and make sure it is at least Factor 30 and 4-star UVA protection.

Don’t burn – ever.

Confused by sunscreens?

If you head down to your local pharmacy to buy sunscreen, you’ll find there is a huge range of brands and types and it can be confusing finding the right product to protect you and your loved ones.

Our advice is to check the labels before you buy and if you are unsure speak to a member of the pharmacy team.

As a guide, the sunscreen you choose should have a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to protect against UVB and at least a 4-star UVA protection. This information should be on the reverse of the bottle. The higher the SPF and star-rating, the more protection the sunscreen provides.

If you already have sunscreen as home, check it’s not past its expiry date – most have a shelf life of two to three years.

And remember, sunscreen does not make you immune to the harmful effects of the sun. Don’t stay in the sun any longer than you would without sunscreen.

Applying sunscreen

Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, or frequently enough. As a guide, adults should aim to apply:

Two teaspoons of sunscreen if you’re just covering your head, arms and neck

Two tablespoons if you’re covering your entire body while wearing swim wear

If sunscreen is applied too thinly, the amount of protection it gives is reduced.

How often you reapply can vary by brand, so check those labels. On average, you should be looking to top it up every two hours. Always reapply sunscreen after you’ve been in the water, even if your sunscreen label states it is water resistant.

Make sure you apply it to all the areas of the skin that are going to be exposed – face, neck, ears, head (if your hair is thinning – or even better, wear a hat). And don’t stay in the sun longer than you would without sunscreen.

Protecting children

As children’s skin is much more sensitive than adult skin, take extra care and keep children under six months old out of direct sunlight.

Between March and October, ensure children are covered up with suitable clothing, spend time in the shade (particularly between 11am and 3pm when the sun is strongest) and wear at least SPF 30 sunscreen.

And if you do get sunburnt?

If you do get burnt by the sun, sponge the area gently with cool water and apply an aftersun cream or spray. If it is painful, take paracetamol or ibuprofen and stay out of the sun until it all the redness has gone.

If the skin swells or blisters or you feel unwell, visit your local pharmacy who will be able to advise you on suitable treatments or refer you to other healthcare services.

Sunbeds and sunlamps

As we’ve mentioned previously, getting a tan doesn’t protect you from the harmful effects of the sun. Current advice is to completely avoid using sunbeds and sunlamps as they increase the health risks including skin cancer.

They can also lead to premature skin ageing, eye irritations and sunburn.

With a few simple precautions, everyone can enjoy spending time in the sun this summer. If you have any questions about sun safety, the right sunscreen to use or what to do if you do get sunburnt, pop into your community pharmacy and speak to a member of the team.