It’s always important to stay safe while travelling and the sun’s rays can be hidden danger. Here Steve Iley, Medical Director for Health Services at AXA PPP healthcare tells us exactly what you need to do to stay safe in the sun…
It’s easy to disregard advice on staying healthy in the sun, or think that it’s only something you need to pay attention to when travelling abroad. However, with 100,000 people diagnosed with skin cancer every year in the UK and sun exposure posing one of the biggest risk factors for developing malignant melanoma, it’s always worth arming yourself with the latest advice on staying safe in the sun, for you and your family.
1. Understand the damage that sun exposure can cause
The biggest risk from sun damage is developing malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer causing over 2,000** deaths a year. The most obvious visual indication of sun damage is burning, which can range from the skin turning red, to blistering, which get infected and result in hospital treatment. Not protecting yourself properly from the sun can also result in heat exhaustion, where you don’t have enough fluids in your body and can’t cool down, resulting in dizziness. If you become properly dehydrated you could develop sever heatstroke; your body will be unable to control its own temperature and you can suffer seizures, hallucinations and ultimately lose consciousness.
2. Choose the right sun cream
Remember that SPF is an indication, not an exact science. You should go for the highest protection available (always use factor 15 or above), and remember that certain skin types are more at risk. For example, if you have fair skin, red or fair hair, lots of moles or freckles, a family history of skin cancer, or if you’ve already had sunburn when you were young, you need to take greater precautions. Choosing a cream, liquid or spray is entirely up to you but a spray can be easier to handle, giving better coverage. Remember to apply all over; you’d be surprised how many bald spots and tops of ears are forgotten!
3. When you rinse, make sure you repeat
As soon as you get in the water, the effects of your sun cream are reduced. Waterproof creams are formulated to stay on longer, but this is not guaranteed and you must re-apply after getting wet.
4. Seek out shade and cover up
Applying sun cream isn’t the only precaution you should take in the sun. Seek out shade in peak hours, between 11am – 3pm, when UV rays are particularly strong. Make sure you never burn and cover up with a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses when you are in the direct sunlight.
5. Take different precautions with children
Children are particularly at risk in the sun, so it’s important to take extra care of them. Some experts believe that just one episode of blistering sunburn before the age of 20 can double your chance of getting malignant melanoma*. Use an all-in-one sun suit, a sun hat, factor 50 sun cream on all exposed areas and make sure you apply a sun cream that is suitable for your child’s face. It’s also important to be aware that children will dehydrate faster than adults, as body size and fluid balance is different.
6. Avoid sunbeds
Sunbeds are very popular amongst certain age groups in the population, but they carry very similar risks to sun exposure. People who have regularly used a sunbed before the age of 30 have a 75% increase in their risk of developing malignant melanoma,** so don’t be tempted into thinking it’s a safer way to get a tan.
7. Know how to respond to overexposure
There is no way to reverse the risks posed by sun damage, but if your skin burns, aloe vera will help reduce the inflammation. If you are experiencing blistering and think it might be infected, or you have become extremely dehydrated, seek medical help immediately.
8. Don’t forget a little sun is important!
The sun is one of the ways we get our vitamin D; lack of which causes bone deficiencies, such as rickets and osteomalacia. You don’t need much sun to counteract this, but you do need short, direct, periods of exposure without sunscreen. About 15 minutes exposure per day during the winter is enough for lighter skinned people, but do seek advice from your GP and always wear sun cream during summer.
9. It’s not just sunny abroad
It’s a surprisingly common misconception that the sun is only strong enough to be harmful when travelling abroad. In fact, it can be just as dangerous in the UK and as well as taking the above precautions during the summer months, you should use a face cream with SPF all year round and make sure you don’t get caught out.
10. Seek proper advice
If you have any questions or concerns about looking after you and your family’s health in the sun, visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Sun Aware Centre for information and tips. You can also visit AXA PPP healthcare’s Ask the Experts service, where you will usually receive a response to any medical question from an expert within 48 hours.