Most people are aware of the risks of over-exposure to the sun — sunburn, heat stroke, melanoma — but there is still a lot of misinformation regarding how exactly to stay safe.
Many cosmetics now contain some form of SPF protection in their formulas. However, the level of protection contained is generally not enough for full protection against the harmful side effects of exposure. Unless the cosmetic product contains SPF30 or above and is waterproof, it’s a good idea to wear additional protection underneath.
Another common myth is that darker skin tones are at less risk of suffering issues relating to sun exposure. While people with darker skin tones are less likely to burn, the skin is still suffering long-term damage; they are also still at risk of heat stroke and other sun-related conditions.
The same applies to naturally or artificially tanned skin.
When you can’t see the sun due to cloud cover, there’s no need for SPF protection, right? Wrong. The damage caused by the sun isn’t the sun’s visible light, but the ultra-violet radiation that accompanies it. Even on cloudy days, UV levels can be high enough to cause damage. Always check the UV index in the summer before going out, regardless of the weather prediction.
While it may be nice to look tanned, no levels of skin tanning should be regarded as safe exposure. Long-term damage to the skin is caused regardless of whether burns are suffered or not.
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is the rating used to distinguish different grades of sunscreen. The Australian Cancer Council recommends a minimum level of SPF30+, however, a popular misconception is that higher levels allow you to stay out longer. The SPF rating dictates how much of the UV radiation is blocked rather than the length of time it will block it. SPF30 for example blocks around 96.7% of the UV radiation, whereas SPF50 blocks about 98%.
You know the risks and myths about sun exposure, but how exactly do you and your family stay sun-safe this summer?
The UV index is an indicator of the intensity of the sun’s damaging UV radiation on a given day. Even on overcast or cloudy days, the UV index can remain high as the UV radiation penetrates the cloud cover. Checking the UV index for the day will give you an idea of the types and amount of protection required. The higher the index number, the greater the protection required.
UV index also serves as a guideline for the amount of time you should spend in the sun; index scores between 0 – 4 indicate a couple of hours exposure maximum, 5 – 7 indicates 30 minutes or less exposure, and anything over 8 means burning can occur in 10 – 15 minutes, so exposure should be avoided.
Sunscreen helps to protect the skin from the harmful UV radiation that can lead to sunburn or melanoma. The Australian Cancer Council recommends the regular application of SPF30+ sunscreen in order to get the full advantage of its protection.
Sunscreen should be reapplied roughly every two hours, more often if you are swimming, where the water and towel drying will rub it off. While waterproof sunscreens are available, the regular application is still advised.
Proper clothing will help to protect your skin from becoming damaged or burnt. Aim for light-weight materials (such as linen) in dark colours to get the best protection. Also, keep a change of clothing available when going swimming, as wet clothing reduces the protection offered.
Sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat are also a good idea to protect the face and eyes. Children between 6 months and 10 years should be especially encouraged to wear sunglasses as their eyes are more prone to UV damage.
Staying hydrated is important all year round, but it’s especially important when out in the summer heat. Dehydration can happen fast in the peak of the summer sun, and its effects can be severe if not treated quickly. Drink lots of fluids — ideally clear ones, regularly, even if you don’t feel thirsty. This is a particular issue when swimming, as being in the cool water may make you think you’re not as dehydrated as you actually are.