Play it safe when you are out in the sunshine

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DOCTOR CALLING: By Dr Kevin Hill

Dr Kevin Hill, chair of South Lincolnshire Clinical Commissioning Group says: “As we are now in the summer holidays and people are out enjoying the sun I often get asked questions about sun protection and what to look out for.

“There is a lot of talk about the level of sun protection that should be used and the advice is use sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15. The higher the SPF, the better. Go for broad-spectrum sunscreens, which protect against harmful UVA and UVB rays. Make sure the product is not past its expiry date. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.

“Broad-spectrum products provide protection against the sun’s UVB and UVA rays. The sun protection factor, or SPF, is a measurement of the amount of UVB protection. The higher the number, the greater the protection. In the UK, UVA protection is measured with a star rating. Sunscreens has from 0 to 5 stars. The higher the number of stars, the greater the protection.

“I generally advise people not to spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen. Sunscreen should not be used as an excuse to stay out in the sun. Instead, it offers protection when exposure is unavoidable. The summer sun is most damaging to your skin in the middle of the day. Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, under umbrellas, trees, canopies or indoors.

“Re-apply sunscreen often if you are swimming as water washes off sunscreen and the cooling effect of the water can make you think you’re not getting burned. Water also reflects UV rays, increasing your exposure. Even “waterproof” sunscreens should be re-applied after going in the water.

“Should you be unlucky to suffer from sunburn then using painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, will ease the pain by helping to reduce inflammation caused by sunburn. Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing after sun or calamine lotion. If you feel unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters, seek medical help. Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone.

“Children are more susceptible to sunburn as young skin is delicate and very easily damaged by the sun. Use at least a factor 15 sunscreen and choose a broad-spectrum brand that has a four- or five-star rating. Apply it to areas not protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet and backs of hands. Choose sunscreens that are formulated for children and babies’ skin, as these are less likely to irritate their skin.

“Finally a word of caution if you have moles that are likely to be exposed to the sun. If you have lots of moles or freckles, you’re more likely to develop skin cancer, so you need to take extra care. Avoid getting caught out by sunburn. Use shade, clothing and sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 to protect yourself. Keep an eye out for changes to your skin and report these to your doctor without delay. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it is found early. Use the mole self-assessment to see whether you could have a cancerous mole this tool can be found on www.nhs.uk”