Sun Is Shining

By: Dr Lauren Macdonald

"Sun is shining, the weather is sweet". Oh sunshine! Most of us would agree with the lyrics to one of Bob Marley's most famous songs. After all, nothing lifts our mood like a sunny day. Heading outside to catch a few rays also has the added benefit of helping provide our bodies with a valuable boost of vitamin D, essential for strong bones and teeth. However, with skin cancer rates in Britain dramatically on the rise, here are few things to consider before venturing out in the sunshine this summer.

Q. Do I really need to bother with sunscreen?

A. Yes. You need to ensure that you apply sunscreen to help block ultraviolet light from damaging your skin. There are two categories of UV light - UVA and UVB - that we consider in terms of sunscreen. UVA has more long-term damaging effects on the skin, like premature ageing, whereas UVB tends to cause sunburn.

However, more seriously, malignant melanoma (skin cancer) is strongly linked to excessive sun exposure, sunbed use and sunburn. Nearly 13,000 new cases of malignant melanoma are recorded in the UK each year, and numbers are rising steadily. There are currently 2,200 deaths from the disease each year.

Q. Will a high SPF sunscreen protect me all day?

A. No it won't. Even the highest SPF broad spectrum sunscreen cannot fully protect against UVA and UVB rays. This is why people should cover up and stay in the shade at the hottest times of the day (11am-3pm).

If staying in the shade isn't possible, be sure to reapply sunscreen regularly. Unfortunately, the reapplication process isn't an exact science and this makes it difficult to specify how many times a day you will need to reapply. This tends to depend on a host of factors including how many times you swim, how sweaty you are, and whether it gets wiped off by clothing or a towel. A middle-strength sunscreen (SPF 15-30) reapplied a couple of times during the day will give good protection in most circumstances. Using ‘stronger’ sun protection (SPF 50 +) may help stop you burning, but it still doesn’t completely protect you from the wavelengths causing ageing and cancer.

If you are still a bit confused about how long you can safely be outside in the sunshine, it might be wise to invest in a UV wristband. These new wristbands can be tied around the wrist and change colour when the user has been exposed to the recommended daily dose of sun for their skin tone. If sunscreen is added to the plastic, it will again mimic how sunscreen acts when it is added to the skin, prolonging the amount of time that the user can be in the sun.

Q. If I continuously reapply a high-SPF sunscreen, is it Ok to lie out in the sun all day?

A. No, absolutely not. You should never aim do this, whether or not you have sunscreen on. Even if you are lucky enough not to burn, you will be increasing your risk of skin cancer, and damage will be done to the skin that makes it look prematurely aged. It is also quite easy to get over-heated and dehydrated. For this reason, hats and good sunglasses are sensible additional items to have on you before you head out into the sunshine.

Q. How do I recognise heat stroke and heat exhaustion?

A. You don’t need to be out in the sun to get heatstroke. It can creep up on you when you get too hot, don’t drink enough and try to do too much. Symptoms of heat stroke often start with headache and dizziness. That’s when you need to get yourself somewhere cool to rest and drink plenty of non-alcoholic drinks as it’s important to lower your body temperature as soon as possible.

Heat exhaustion is caused by the loss of salt and water from excessive sweating. Common symptoms include headache, dizziness, cramps, breathing that is fast but weak, and profuse sweating. It is important to get into a cool, shady area and drink plenty of water.

Top Summer Tips

Seek shade between 11am and 3pm.

  • Get yourself a good hat with a wide brim and some sunglasses. The face and neck are the areas most commonly affected by sun damage.

  • Slap on the sunscreen. The paler your skin the higher the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you will need.

  • Choose sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB and reapply regularly, especially after swimming.

  • Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating.

  • Watch those moles. If any change, itch, bleed or spread, get them checked by a doctor.

  • Fake it. Gone are the days when having a fake tan meant looking like you had been tangoed. There are so many options out there for a year-round tan. Exfoliate, then slap it on.

  • Author Insight:
    Dr Lauren MacDonald is a 30 year old NHS doctor with a personal experience of melanoma skin cancer. Having a cancer experience at 29 years old influenced her to work with Trekstock, with an aim to help better support young adults facing a cancer experience. She would very much like everyone to stay safe in the sunshine.