I’m pretty paranoid when it comes to sun protection anyway as I’ve already had one skin cancer scare. I first became aware of just how dangerous the sun can be in my early 20’s when I was studying cosmetology (skin care). I went to a lecture on Sun Damage given by Dr Des Fernandes, who is a plastic Surgeon based in Cape Town, South Africa. He also created a skin care range called Environ, which he believes prevents premature ageing and skin damage caused directly by the sun. Some of the sun safety tips I learnt from him at that lecture have stuck with me for life.
I won’t go into too much scientific skin care jargon as I could go on and on and on about it. Instead I’m just going to stick to what I know about sun damage and how we can protect both ourselves and our kids from it.
UVA and UVB – What are they??
For those that don’t already know, they are the sun’s rays. The UV stands for Ultra Violet and the A and B are just used to describe the length of each ray. An easy way to remember them is:
B is for Burning
A is for Ageing
B Rays are shorter in length and only penetrate the surface of our skin causing it to chance colour (tan), burn and some premature ageing. They can’t penetrate through cloud which is why we only tend to get burnt on a clear sunny day. B Rays give us a handy warning by turning our skin red if we are exposed to them without any protection. A Rays are much longer and can penetrate right though to the very deepest layers of our skin where our DNA sits. They can also penetrate right through cloud, so A Rays can damage our skin all year round even on a cloudy, overcast day. A Rays release free radicals into the deeper skin layers, which alter our skins DNA. Over time they can cause premature skin ageing (wrinkles, lines and pigmentation marks) as well as SKIN CANCER!! There are several different types of skin cancers (none of which are nice) but it’s really important to know that some of them CAN KILL YOU. It takes around 10 years for damage caused by these free radicals to start appearing on our skin. So just think, those little lines you may have seen appear on your skin in your early 20’s were most probably from sun damage in your pre-teens! Scary?? I thought so!! Imagine the damage we could potentially cause for our kids if we don’t educate and protect from the sun right now.
SPF – What does it really mean??
SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is a basic measurement of how well your chosen sunscreen protects your skin from UVB (those burning rays). To calculate it you need to know roughly how long it takes your skin to turn red in the sun. If it takes 10 minutes, for example, then you would multiply that by your chosen SPF factor, say 30, to give you the amount of time your skin is protected after application. So 10 (minutes) x 30 (your SPF) = 300. That would give you 300 minutes or 5 hours before you would start to burn and would need to reapply your sunscreen.
However, this should only ever be used a rough guide as it does not take into account the following
- Damage being done by UVA Rays (the invisible damage).
- The temperature and UV indicator on the day (eg: you are likely to burn much more quickly on a 30 degree clear day with a high UV count, than on a 21 degree partly cloudy day with a lower UV count).
- Your skin type – some people are more sensitive than others and you can also be more sensitive at different times of the month or year.
Alway use a BROAD SPECTRUM sunscreen. SPF only protects you against UVB rays. A broad spectrum sunscreen will protect you from both UVB and UVA rays.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR STAYING SAFE IN THE SUN
- Always wear sunscreen when outdoors, regardless of the weather. Some of the suns harmful rays can still penetrate through clouds.
- Apply your sunscreen half an hour before going into the sun and to be safe reapply every two hours (if you’re staying in the sun) or follow the instruction on the bottle you have bought.
- Sunscreens DO EXPIRE! A good sunscreen should have it’s expiry date printed on the bottle. Don’t assume last years leftovers are still good!
- If in the sun all day, the average adult should use a quarter to half of an 8oz bottle of sunscreen. Sunscreen should always be applied liberally with at least a ‘shot’ glass amount on each application. Less than this will not give you the full SPF protection.
- If applied correctly the best option to choose is a Broad Spectrum SFP 30 that has been approved by the Australian (or whichever country your live in) Sun Safety Standards.
- Don’t be fooled – a high SPF will not stop you from tanning, it will just take you longer to get a tan. A slower tan is always a safer tan.
- No sunscreen will give 100% protection. Stay out of the sun during peak hours (usually 11am to 2pm).
- Wear a broad brimmed hat where possible, protective clothing (especially while swimming) and sunnies to protect your eyes when out and about in the sun.
- Allergic reactions to sunscreens are generally caused by the perfumes and preservatives found in them, not the chemicals that filter out UV rays. Always read the labels and check the ingredients if you have sensitive skin. Buying the cheapest option is not always the best option, but you don’t need to buy the most expensive either.
So remember to slip, slop, slap, be SunSmart and enjoy the weather!