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Health and Beauty Articles

Staying safe in the sun

It’s a fact that when the sun is shining our spirits are lifted; our moods are lightened whilst the mundane routines of everyday life are abolished as a result of the transition from spring to summer, hence why many of us opt for the popular holiday in the sun abroad or save our days off for lounging around at the suntrap side of our homes!

I must say I’m relieved I didn’t write this column for May - it wouldn’t have been the most appropriate topic considering summer certainly didn’t come early this year for us islanders! However, even when sweltering rays aren’t sending us out in hordes to Engie’s and Nicolson’s for that delicious whippy ice cream or enticing us to the gorgeous beaches that surround us it is still vital to ensure you’re looking after yourself and your skin in even the mildest of summer temperatures.

Rates of Melanoma in Scotland are higher than that of Australia where soaring temperatures would make it the likely candidate. The ‘frying in the sun’ approach promotes this danger so a high SPF must be worn the instant the sun connects with the skin. Buying a sunscreen can be as rushed as deciding on what top to wear in the morning: you must ensure your cream contains protection from both UVA and UVB rays and meets with industry standards. It is recommended to apply the cream 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun to allow the skin to absorb the sunscreen; otherwise it may melt off before it’s had time to take effect!  

If you venture to a hotter climate such as Spain or the Canaries a moisturiser with an SPF isn’t sufficient to provide the protection you would need for the face: a high factor sunscreen of 30 should be applied every two hours instead. Or if you’re opting to stay in the Hebrides for the summer don’t be fooled by a cloudy day, the sun’s rays will penetrate through clouds as well as fog and mist! It’s also important to protect your eyes with UV blocking sunglasses.

Different skin types need different levels of SPF protection. Skin types range from 1-6 and must have close attention paid to the relevant type to avoid sunburn and other long term skin damage:

Skin type I This skin always burns; doesn’t form a pigment tan; and is extremely sun-sensitive SPF 40+
Skin type II Usually burns easily; tans rarely; very sun-sensitive SPF 35
Skin type III
Sometimes burns; tans slowly to a light shade of brown; quite sun-sensitive SPF 30
Skin type IV Burns minimally; always tans to moderate brown; minimally sun-sensitive skin SPF 20
Skin type V Rarely burns; tans well; sun-insensitive skin SPF 15 *
Skin type VI Never burns; deeply pigmented; sun-insensitive skin SPF 10

 * (I’d save a fortune on fake tan if I fell into this category!)

Be vigorous with sun screen application as neglecting areas such as the ears; scalp; under the eyes; lips; feet and the back can make for a very unhappy holiday maker. Extra care must be taken when you’re out in the sun between 10am and 4pm – when the sun is at its hottest.

Be careful to ensure that you re-apply your sunscreen after swimming or doing any water sports – I found this out the hard way on a Catamaran trip in the Dominican Republic last year – I looked like any normal peely-wally Scottish woman on boarding the boat in contrast to the beaming lobster that I was in vacating it after snorkelling in the sea and not re-applying cream! Ouch!

Extra care should be taken with children. Thin, white cotton t-shirts barely protect from UV rays so parents should take extra care when their children are playing outside and opt for darker colours or a very high factor of sunscreen – sunscreens for kids must also be water resistant!

After a few days of your holiday a sunscreen of a lower factor can be used as the skin will have adapted to the temperature. I wouldn’t recommend anything lower than a 20 on an abroad holiday as the Scottish skin doesn’t tend to be too forgiving when it’s too exposed to the sun.

If you do unfortunately sustain a sunburn injury it is likely it will be a first degree burn – one that shows later at night with redness and peels after a few days. This is best treated on the day it happens with calamine lotion, after sun with aloe vera, cool baths or over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. Anti-inflammatory oral medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen may lessen the pain and discomfort caused by the burn.

Second degree burns are more serious and can be considered a medical emergency if a large area is covered. They tend to blister the skin – don’t break the blisters as they act as a natural protective mechanism to heal the affected area and the healing process is delayed if they are ruptured and can possibly start an infection.

When the burn is severe and is accompanied by a headache, chills, a fever or dizziness medical attention should be sought as these are symptoms of sun stroke.

On return from an abroad holiday the skin may be suffering from dehydration so switch to hydrating products to boost moisture levels. A facial with a specified Clay mask will help sooth any sunburnt skin and exfoliate away dead skin.

Although it’s not technically sun related I passionately discourage the use of sun beds. Women who use tanning beds more than once a month are 55% more likely to develop melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer. Many debates say this is the same principle as lying in the sun – new high-pressure sunlamps emit doses of UVR that can be as much as 12 times that of the sun – so the dangers are far less.

Ultimately, there is no safe way to tan. Just try and be as safe as possible in the sun, protect your skin, don’t overdo it and you’ll be just fine – otherwise, fake it!

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