The best sun protection for you and your family
In the golden glow of summer, just how much sun is safe? Perhaps surprisingly, we shouldn’t obsess about blocking every single sun ray. It’s important to expose around 20% of our skin (think bare arms and bare legs without any sunscreen) for 10-20 minutes every day during the warmer months in order to make enough vitamin D to see us through the winter. However, there is no doubt that all of us need to behave very sensibly when dealing with a force that’s as powerful and potentially dangerous as the sun, especially for young children and those with very fair skin, so here are Liz’s top tips to help you and your family have the very best protection against the sun’s rays.
Cover all bases
The first line of defence in strong sunshine is clothing. Either choose sun-protective clothing for kids (see Sunuva for an excellent range of gorgeous designs, endorsed by The British Skin Foundation) or make sure the fabric weave is thick enough that you can’t see through it, otherwise some rays will get through. Shading your face, ears and back of neck, all of which are very vulnerable areas, requires a wide-brimmed hat or cap. Last, but by no means least, is a pair of 100% UV protective sunglasses. Too much exposure to sunlight can damage the surface of the eye and in turn, our sight. UV light is strongest when it’s reflected off sand and water, so take extra care to keep your shades on if you’re lucky enough to be relaxing on a beach or lounging by the pool. Even expanses of pale concrete (outdoor terraces, city scapes) will reflect and increase UV.
Whether you prefer to use – as Liz does – a mineral sunscreen that sits on the surface of the skin and reflects the sun’s rays, or a synthetic chemical sunscreen which is absorbed into the skin (be careful here as this could trigger sensitivities such as prickly heat and even generate harmful free radicals), the key to staying safe in the sun is slapping enough sunscreen on regularly. Research shows that most of us apply only half the amount of sunscreen that we should do, and often we apply it too late. As a rough guide, the average adult needs roughly 6 teaspoonfuls to cover the body, and the most effective coverage tends to be from two thin layers rather than one thick layer. So for the best sun protection, apply one coat of sunscreen before you go out in the sun, and then re-apply another 20-30 minutes later. Add extra onto faces, chests and shoulders and don’t forget the tops and soles of the feet. Re-apply regularly, and always after swimming, exercise or towel-drying.
Know your ABC
Sunlight is divided into three wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC. All of the UVC radiation is filtered out by the atmosphere, however both UVA and UVB rays reach the earth’s surface and both can cause skin cancer. UVA rays have the longest wavelength which can pass through glass and penetrate deep into the skin to the dermis – these are the rays responsible for skin ageing. UVB only reaches as far as the epidermis but is the radiation that causes skin to burn or redden. When you choose a sunscreen, the SPF number relates to the amount of protection from UVB rays, but it’s also really important to look at the amount of UVA protection it provides, usually indicated by a number of stars – one star representing very low protection, and five stars being high protection. Mineral sunscreens (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) tend to provide the safest, broadest amount of protection.
Retreat from the heat
Between noon and 3pm the sun tends to be at its highest and strongest – about 50% of the sun’s UV rays occur during this time. So seek out some shade for the lunchtime hours and spend time enjoying the cool away from the fierce intensity of the sun’s rays. If you want to lightly tan, then take the safer option and enjoy some gentler sunshine at the beginning and end of the day. But never forget, the only truly safe tan is a fake tan.
- Mineral sunscreens (zinc oxide, titanium dioxide) sit on the surface of the skin, reflecting the sun’s rays, and tend to provide the safest, broadest amount of protection
- Clothing is one of the simplest ways to protect your skin, just make sure the fabric weave is thick enough that you can’t see through it, otherwise some rays will get through
- Always reapply sun cream after swimming, exercise or towel-drying