The sun and its effects
While we need sunlight to live, it can also be very damaging to our health if we get too much of it.
The energy contained in sunlight includes UV (ultraviolet) and infra-red and visible light. UV levels are highest between 11am and 3pm in the summer months, or 10am and 2pm during GMT1. As UV radiation is not related to temperature, it’s very easy to underestimate the risk and get burnt during everyday activities like gardening or sitting in the park.
Even on cloudy and cool days, UV radiation causes unseen damage to skin and can lead to ageing of the skin which can take the form of abnormal pigmentation, fine lines, wrinkles and even the risk of skin cancers, and rates have increased rapidly in England in the past 30 years2, with a disproportionately higher rate amongst younger people3.
Who is in a high-risk group for sun damage?
Skin types is one of the main factors that determine the risk of sunburn4. From light (highest risk) to dark skin (lowest risk), there are six skin types that correlate with a person’s susceptibility to sunburn4. Factors that pose higher risks for skin cancer include:
- Personal or family history of skin cancer (5,6)
- Exposure to the sun through work or play
- A history of sunburns or indoor tanning
- Blond or red hair
- Fair or very fair skin types which burn easily (5,6)
- Light coloured eyes (5)
- A large number of moles (5,6)
- Patients with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis
- People using immunosuppressive drugs (6)
- Those with conditions such as eczema, dermatitis and psoriasis
- Patients undergoing or recovering from radiotherapy (7)
Children’s skin is also particularly delicate and easily damaged8, putting them at greatest risk – sunburn in childhood can increase the risk of skin damage, which may include conditions such as malignant melanoma and other skin cancers 9. But such damage is easily preventable. That’s why it’s essential to apply a high factor suncream, such as SPF 50+, and make sure you’re always Sun Sensible.
Stay Sun Sensible
Help prevent your skin getting damaged by following these simple precautions:
Cover up Wear a sunhat, sunglasses and T-shirt when you’re outside.
Stay shady While you’re outside, stay in the shade as much as you can. Watch out for reflections from surfaces such as snow, water or sand, which can also cause sunburn. Even concrete or grass can reflect the sun and increase your risk of burning.
Drink lots Make sure you don’t get dehydrated, especially on warm days, by drinking lots of water – if you’re being active, this is particularly important.
Cream up Cover ALL your exposed skin with high factor sun cream (at least SPF 15), to protect your skin and stop it burning6 – and remember to reapply every 2 hours, or sooner if you go swimming. There’s no such thing as a waterproof or all-day suncream! SPF 50+ will offer you the best protection against UV rays. You’ll also find tips on how to properly apply sunscreen
The Sun and its effects video
Guide to staying safe in the sun
How to avoid sun-damaged skin