We love being in the sun - it makes up feel good and is necessary for the production of vitamin D. However, too much sun is damaging to our skin and can lead to skin cancer.
We need the sun. It is good for a sense of well-being and it helps the body to produce vitamin D. However, too much sun is damaging to our skin and can lead to a range of skin problems, the most dangerous of which is skin cancer.
The sun produces three wavelengths of ultraviolet (UV) radiation: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA is present all year round. It penetrates deeply into the skin causing cell damage:
Affects the elastin and supporting tissue in the skin, leading to wrinkles, sagging and sun-induced skin ageing like coarse, leathery skin and brown pigmentation;
It can cause skin cancer, Can penetrate through window glass; Penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB; Can be blocked to some degree by clothing; UVA protection in a sunscreen will help defend the skin against photo ageing.
UVB reaches peak intensity during the summer months. It penetrates the skin causing damage to the cells:
Penetrates the outer skin layer and causes inflammation and sunburn, which has strong links to causing basal cell cancer and malignant melanoma (types of skin cancer);
A sunscreen with a high SPF will help prevent the skin from burning and the damage that can cause skin cancer;
Produces vitamin D in our skin; Causes skin ageing (but at a slower rate than UVA); The SPF in a sunscreen helps to protect us against UVB.
You need to protect yourself against both UVA and UVB.
Sunbeds produce the same UVA and UVB radiation and pose the same problems for your skin as the sun. They are not a good alternative to sunbathing. It is estimated that sunbeds cause 100 deaths a year in the UK from melanoma. All the guidance on this page relates to sunbeds as much as the sun.
Under 18s are not allowed to use sunbeds - The Sunbeds (Regulation) Act came into force on 8th April 2011 to help.
The dark pigment that gives skin its natural colour is called melanin and it is made in our skin by cells called melanocytes. Melanin is an excellent photoprotectant; it protects our skin by absorbing the majority of harmful UV radiation and transforms the energy into harmless heat. However, when we are exposed to too much UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds, it causes direct and indirect DNA damage to the skin. The body naturally seeks to repair the damage and protect the skin by creating and releasing further melanin into the skin's cells.
It is this increase in melanin that causes the skin to go darker, creating a tan. It is a sign that the DNA in the skin has been damaged by radiation and is trying to protect itself.
A sunburn is a clear sign that ultraviolet radiation from the sun or sunbeds has damaged the genetic material in your skin cells i.e. your DNA.
And this damaged DNA can cause cells to start growing out of control, which can lead to skin cancer.
Getting sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.
Protecting yourself from sun damage is easy:
Use a suitable sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and with UVA protection;
Apply the sunscreen generously, covering all areas of the skin - and reapply every few hours;
Wear a brimmed sun hat; Cover up; Wear sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB - eyes are also at risk from UV damage; Seek shade, especially during the hottest part of the day.
Fake tan refers to any product that you put on your skin to create the look and glow of a tan. Fake tanning products are a safe way of achieving a tanned look.
Some products sit on your skin and are easily removed e.g. bronzers, tinted moisturisers.
More long-lasting products contain an active ingredient that reacts chemically with the amino acids in the dead layer of the skin’s surface. This reaction is non-toxic and skin-safe, it requires no UV exposure and involves no permanent pigmentation.
The active ingredients used are dihydroxyacetone and erythulose; products use one or the other, though some do use both.
Off-the-shelf fake tan products come in sprays, mousses, lotions and creams. Salon-applied products may also include airbrushing.
Even with a fake tan, you still need to use a sunscreen product to protect your skin in SPF = Sun Protection Factor.
Sunscreens are labelled with an SPF to show the level of protection against UVB, but not UVA. It could be more accurately thought of as the "sun burn protection factor", as excess UVB is responsible for causing sunburn.
The higher the SPF rating, the more protection in theory is offered, and the longer it takes for the skin to burn in the sun. However, this all depends on many factors like your skin type, the country you're in, the sun's intensity, swimming, sweat and how the sunscreen is applied.
There are several important aspects to choosing a sunscreen product:
SPF rating for the protection against UVB; the higher the number, the better the protection;
UVA rating for the level of protection against UVA. Look for a product that has the UVA logo on it or the star ratings (five stars being the best);
Make sure the product is not past its expiry date.
Look for a sunscreen that has protection against both UVA and UVB (known as "broad spectrum").
Sunscreen products cannot (and don't claim) to protect against cancer. They can, as part of a sun safe regime, help prevent the DNA damage that causes sunburn and other damaging effects of ultraviolet exposure from the sun and sunbeds, such as premature ageing.
The level of protection offered depends on many factors, including skin type, the sun's intensity (location, time of day/year), how the sunscreen has been applied and how often topped up, and how old the sunscreen is.
Some cosmetic products come with a Sun Protection Factor. The SPF in moisturisers is tested in the same way that a sunscreen product is tested, so a SPF15 moisturiser should provide a SPF of 15.
However, moisturisers are not generally water resistant and are usually applied thinly; therefore, they are unlikely to offer the same level of protection as a sunscreen product of SPF15. As make-up is generally only applied to the face, it does not offer complete protection.
Also, SPF refers to the level of UVB protection, so a moisturiser or make-up item with an SPF does not protect against UVA.
The better way to protect your skin against both UVA and UVB is to use the right sunscreen product.
USEFUL LINKS AND CONTACTS
STAYING SAFE IN THE SUN
The myths, the facts and the harm caused by using sunbeds
Some of the popular brands of fake tan products