Be Smart. Enjoy The Sunshine Safely!

July 22, 2021 7 min read

Sinead Manning - Pharmacist, Jul 2021.

Spending time outdoors has never been so important BUT we must protect ourselves and our loved ones to ensure it’s a memorable experience for all the right reasons and not the wrong ones!

Skin Cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland and in fair/light skinned populations worldwide, for whom sunburn is a risk factor. Skin cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. Skin cancers are generally divided into non-melanoma skin cancers (which include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), and melanoma. The vast majority of these cancers are associated with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, mainly from sunlight. UV radiation from artificial sources (e.g., sunbeds), also cause skin cancer.

The good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented. A person’s risk is mainly influenced by exposure to UV, and skin pigmentation.

It is important to remember that children’s skin is much more vulnerable to the damaging effects of UV radiation from the sun and that sun damage is cumulative. Preventing overexposure to UV radiation and sunburn in childhood reduces the risk of sun damage, and skin cancer in later life. Research has indicated that having ‘ever’ experienced a sunburn in childhood, nearly doubles the risk of melanoma of the skin in adulthood.

Do You Know Your Skin Type?
The effects of sunlight are not the same for everyone. A person’s natural skin colour influences their sensitivity to UV and skin cancer risk, and can be classified on a scale called the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale, which ranges from 1 (high risk) to 6 (low risk). It considers skin colour (i.e., pale white to black), and how the skin reacts to sunlight (i.e., whether it burns easily, or tans). Most people living in Ireland have fair skin – Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2. People with these skin types burn easily and tan poorly so are particularly vulnerable to UV damage and, as a result, are at a higher risk of skin cancer. The good news is you can reduce your risk of skin cancer by avoiding overexposure to UV from sunlight or artificial sources (never ever use a sunbed!!).

Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale

Please check out your Skin Type on ‘The Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale’ which is available on the Irish Skin Foundation Website.

So, What is Solar Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?
UV radiation is a part of sunlight. There are 3 types: UVA , UVB and UVC. We only need to protect ourselves against UVA and UVB as the ozone layer blocks all UVC. Overexposure to UV can cause sunburn, skin cancer, skin and eye damage and premature skin ageing. UVB is mainly responsible for sunburn while UVA is mostly involved in skin ageing. However, both types of UV are linked to the development of skin cancer.
UV damage adds up over our lifetime. Both occasional and chronic UV exposure can be damaging; sunburn is the most harmful, but frequent non-burning exposures can also increase skin cancer risk.

UVA UVB UVC Rosscarbery Pharmacy

UV rays are present all year round but levels vary, depending on things like: your location, time of day, time of year and weather conditions. The UV INDEX measures the UV level at the surface of the Earth. It ranges from 0 -11+; the higher the number, the greater the risk of skin damage, particularly sunburn. The UV Index is a great information source as UV cannot be felt or seen so we need this information to help defend ourselves against overexposure. The Irish Skin Foundation recommend in Ireland making sun protection part of your daily routine particularly from April - September, when the intensity of sunburn producing UV is greatest, even when it is cloudy.

Met Éireann’s regional weather forecasts

The UV index forecast and advice for Ireland is included in Met Éireann’s regional weather forecasts from May to September but please be aware, that this can only be an average for any one day over the whole country.

We must also be aware that chronic exposure of the skin to UV over many years in ‘indoor settings’ (e.g., when driving or through window glass), can cause invisible skin damage, resulting in premature ageing and may increase skin cancer risk. Therefore, those who spend long hours driving, sitting next to a window or working in glass greenhouses, should undertake UV protective measures to reduce their cumulative UVA exposure through glass.

Understanding Sunscreen
How They Work
Sunscreen works by helping to protect our skin by filtering out UV radiation through the use of chemical (organic) and physical (inorganic) active ingredients.

  • Chemical filters absorb UV radiation. Chemical filters are sometimes referred to as organic chemicals. The term organic in this context, does not mean ‘natural’ or ‘additive-free’ but is a word used by scientists to describe molecules containing carbon atoms.
  • Physical filters (e.g., titanium dioxide or zinc oxide) reflect UV radiation.
Understanding Sunscreen Labelling
Sunscreen labelling can be so confusing so hopefully this quick explanation will be helpful
  • SPF (Sun Protection Factor) shows the degree of protection the sunscreen provides against UVB only. It is rated on a scale from 2-50+. The higher the factor, the greater the level of protection against UVB.
  • UVA Star Ratings indicate the level of protection the sunscreen provides against UVA, compared with the level of protection it provides against UVB (i.e., the ratio between the level of UVA and UVB protection offered by the product). The ratings range from 0-5. The higher the number of stars, the greater the level of protection against UVA.
  • It is very important to choose a sunscreen with a high SPF as well as high UVA protection (ideally 4 or 5 stars) because sunscreens with a low SPF can still have a high number of stars, not because they are offering high UVA protection, but because the ratio between UVA and UVB protection is the same as offered in sunscreens with higher SPF.
  • Sunscreens have a ‘period after opening’ (PAO) symbol on the labelling. This symbol is a small picture of an opened jar with a number printed within and usually specified in months or years (e.g.,12M). This indicates the period of time after opening the product that it is safe to use.
  • Always look for high protection’ broad spectrum sunscreens, with an SPF of at least 30 + for adults /50+ for children, and a UVA circle logo and/or 4 or 5 UVA stars. And remember a higher price does not necessarily indicate better protection.
    Understanding a bottle of sunscreen

How To Apply Sunscreen Correctly:
Correct amount: You should apply at least one teaspoon to each body part.

  • Head/face/neck
    How to apply sunscreen correctly
  • Each arm
  • Each leg
  • Your front
  • Your back

Correct locations: Don't forget your ears, your nose, your lips (choose a broad-spectrum lip balm), your neck, the tops of your feet and (if your hair is thinning) your scalp!

Correct timing: Apply sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before you go out in the sun.

Correct frequency: Reapply frequently, at least every two hours and after exercising, sweating, swimming, or towel drying This includes 'waterproof' and 'water-resistant' sunscreen.

Correct use: No sunscreen can provide 100% UV protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreen should be used alongside other protective measures such as clothing and shade.

Top Tips to Protect Your Skin.
  • Know the UV Index- Stay safe by limiting the time you spend in the midday sun when UV is strongest, typically between 11.00 am and 3.00pm.
  • Remember it is possible to burn on a cloudy day!!
  • DO NOT deliberately suntan. AVOID sunbathing/sunburning. NEVER EVER use a sunbed!
  • Keep babies and young children in the shade as much as possible. Although shade can reduce UV radiation by 50% or more, other forms of sun protection should also be used to shield against exposure from reflected UV radiation, from surfaces such as concrete or sand. It is possible to get sunburn under an umbrella if you have no additional protection.
  • For children under 12 months, it is best to keep them out of direct sunlight. For example, by providing shade when they are outdoors and wearing protective clothing and hats. It's better in the first 6 months to protect babies from sunlight rather than use sunscreen. This is because their skin doesn't absorb sunscreen as well as older children. Do use sunscreen if it's not possible to avoid sunlight and if using sunscreen, choose one that is suitable for babies and apply sunscreen on small exposed skin.
  • If possible, plan your day’s activities in advance to reduce your children’s exposure to the sun, particularly between 11am and 3pm when UV rays are strongest.
  • ALWAYS remember the Irish Skin Foundations 5 ‘Ss’ of Sun Safety and try to teach the young people in your life this from a young age
  1. SEEK shade e.g., sit in cover of trees to avoid direct sunlight and use a sunshade on your buggy or pram. Keep babies and children out of direct sunlight.
    5 S's of sun protection
  2. SLIP on clothing: Cover skin as much as possible e.g., wear long sleeves,
    collared t-shirts, clothes made from close-woven material that does not allow sunlight through.
  3. SLAP on a hat with a wide brim: Protect your face, ears and neck.
  4. SLOP on broad-spectrum (UVA/UVB) sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30+ for adults and 50+ for children, with high UVA protection, and water resistant. Reapply regularly.
  5. Slide on sunglasses with UV protection and the wraparound style are best: Guard your eyes from harm.
  • Know your Medications: some medicines can increase sensitivity to sunlight. If you have any queries regarding your medication, please discuss it with your pharmacist or doctor.
  • A tan does not protect against sunburn. A tan is your skin's way of protecting itself against further sun damage. Even when a tan fades, the skin damage caused by the tan never goes away.
  • If you are concerned about a change or growth on your skin, you should always see your doctor.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. I hope that the information and tips included will help you to keep your skin safe this year and for many years to come. Whether at home or abroad, enjoy the sun safely. If you have any questions or need any further advice do not hesitate to contact us in store.

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