While a small amount of sunshine on the skin is beneficial -it supplies Vitamin D and helps to keep the more harmful germs that live on the skin at bay – there is no longer any doubt that continuous and prolonged exposure to the sun or the rays of a sunbed can be harmful.
This harm is observed in all sorts of ways – the skin ages prematurely, with wrinkling and dark brown blemishes, often accompanied by an ugly thickening of patches of the top skin layers, called solar keratosis. Skin changes that we notice as we get older, wrinkles and loss of elasticity, are now believed to be mainly due to damage from the sun. About 70% of this skin damage, which may take years to show, probably occurs in childhood, as a young child’s skin is thinner than that of an adult and more likely to burn.
Each time the skin is burnt, the damage accumulates and the risk of skin cancer developing in the future increases. Over-exposure to the ultra-violet rays of the sun makes the skin red, hot and sore. Higher doses lead to inflammation and swelling; even greater exposure leads to burning, blistering and peeling as the epidermis – the outer layer of skin – disintegrates. Very bad sunburn damages the skin so much that it cannot carry out its usual functions. The heat absorbed from over-exposure to the sun can stop the body’s temperature gauge from working properly, resulting in sunstroke, which has been known to kill.
Yet nobody really need suffer from sunburn. Prevention is always better than cure. It’s worth remembering that you can get burnt even on cloudy days – 80% of ultra-violet rays get through cloud and water. Always try to use a protective cream. Proprietary suntan products, such as the Uvistat range or the Sun E45 range, which protects against UVA/ UVB rays, are labelled with SPFs – sun protection factors -devised to tell you how much protection you can expect. They work by absorbing, reflecting or scattering the sun’s rays – the higher the number, the more protection the product should give.
Remember, too, that babies and young children are particularly vulnerable to the sun’s harmful rays, so always use a sun protection cream designed for their delicate skins. Babies under six months old should be kept out of the sun anyway, not just because of the risk of sunburn, but because heatstroke can be even more dangerous.
Sticking to the rule of avoiding the sun between 11 a.m. And 4 pm. – when ultra-violet radiation is at its most intense because the sun is directly overhead – may not necessarily be the best safeguard: times vary according to geography and seasonal changes. So a good tip is to watch your shadow. When it’s the same height as you are, the sun’s rays are at an angle of 45° and therefore less dangerous -provided, of course, that you use an adequate sunscreen. If your shadow is shorter, you’re more likely to burn.
If you do suffer from sunburn, the painful effects don’t normally last for more than a few days, followed by itching as the skin heals. Lotions containing calamine or aloe vera with perhaps menthol, phenol or camphor have a cooling effect on the skin. Blisters should not be burst and you should drink plenty of water just in case you have become dehydrated. If the skin is burnt or peeling, stay out of the sun until it has healed completely. If symptoms are severe, always consult a doctor.
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