In England it’s getting pretty hot! The rest of the world may think that 33 degrees is mild, but in a country where we recognise the clouds before the sun, it is pretty darn toasty here! My first thought is that I need to make the most of it, to go outside, have picnics with friends, relax on the grass etc.. and so it can be easy to forget about your health during all the fun of sunbathing and playing with water guns. While sitting in the sun and getting some much needed Vitamin D is obviously good for you, excessiveness can lead to some rather nasty health conditions. So what can we do to look after ourselves during this beautiful weather?
UVA and UVB.
First lets talk about what it is we are protecting ourselves from. So ultraviolet (UV) radiation is part of the light spectrum that travels from the sun to the earth. You will have heard of UVA and UVB, but what exactly does that mean?
UVA rays make up about 95% of the UV radiation that reach the surface of the earth. UVA rays have long wavelengths and are much less intense than UVB rays. UVA rays can penetrate through clouds and glass, and while they will not burn you, they can make their way through to the deeper layers of your skin (dermis) and cause premature aging as well as giving your immune system a bit of a knock! It is really important to protect your skin from harmful rays, even if there is no chance you will burn.
UVB rays are the short waves that do not typically travel trough glass, but too much exposure will cause the more superficial layers of your skin to burn. The intensity of the UVB rays can vary from the time of year, to the time of day. Typically between 10am and 4pm is when you need to be the most careful, although this does not mean that you will not burn at other times of the day. Sunburns do not just hurt, that can leave lasting damage to your skin, including the development of skin cancer.
There are also UVC rays, but these are nothing to be concerned about as they become absorbed by the earth’s ozone layer before having a chance to make it to the earth’s surface.
Sun cream and SPF
Now, since both UVA and UVB are both harmful, you will need to protect against both. Any brand of sun creams that advertise just UVB protection against burning is a big no no, you need UVA and UVB protection. Next there is the issue of SPF (Sun Protection Factor). It may be that you are on the look out for a low factor sun cream in the hope that you will get a good tan after a long sunbathing session. In truth though, it unfortunately doesn’t work that way. The SPF is actually referring to how long it will take for the UVB rays to reach the superficial layers of your skin, in other words, how long it will take for your skin to burn.
Now everyone is different, and the time it takes you to burn in the sun, may be a bit longer or a bit shorter than your friend sitting next to you. Lets say your skin will start to burn after 10 minutes of sun exposure, using a sun cream with an SPF of 10 means it will take 10 times as long for your skin to redden and burn, than if you wear no sun cream at all. In turn if you are wearing a sun cream with an SPF of 15, it will then take 15 times as long for the skin to redden and burn.
Now as far as protection goes, an SPF 10 will offer you around 90% protection against UVA and UVB rays, and an SPF 50 will offer you 99% protection. The jump from SPF 10 to SPF 50 is not huge, but the more protected you are, the better.
You may now have an SPF in mind that is right for you, but is there a sun cream out that would be more gental on the skin. Well more traditional sun creams use chemicals that are designed to absorb the UVA and UVB rays and completely dissipate them. Some of these chemicals are not always so great for the skin, and so while helping us to protect our skin from the sun, they can leave behind other problems too, particularly if you are prone to dermatitis. It is common for chemical based sun creams to state “apply 30 minutes before sun exposure”. Look out for sun creams that do not contain parabens, SLS or petrochemicals.
However, there is the option of a mineral based sun cream that use minerals such as zinc oxide to reflect the UVA and UVB rays. These can be much more gentle on the skin and do not need to be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, as once applied, you will be ready to go!
What to use if I burn my skin?
We all burn at some point, whether we were in the sun longer than we had anticipated, or because we missed that one area under our arms when applying sun cream. Now while burning is not ideal, all is not lost! There are many measures you can take to still take care of your skin, even after burning.
Firstly there is the much loved aloe vera. This is my go to remedy if get a sunburn, or if I happen to catch my ear with my hair straighteners. This cactus like plant (which actually belongs to the lily family) is incredibly soothing and can help to bring that ‘hot’ feeling out of your burns. Aloe is also anti-bacterial, and so can help to prevent infections if your burns happen to blister. On top of all of that, it can help to put the moisture back into your skin.
Water! Your skin will be horribly dehydrated when you burn and so you will need to drink plenty of water! By this point, your skin has been effectively ‘charred’. Water is necessary for the skin to start the healing process, so make sure you head straight for a nice cold bottle of water if you notice that your skin has been burnt.
Vitamin E oil is another favourite of mine. The free radicals that would have developed during sun exposure need to be dealt with, and vitamin E with its high anti-oxidant content can be the one to do it. Vitamin E oil is also very healing, as well as moisturising and can help to reduce the visibility of scars. It can be taken internally, if you prefer to heal your skin from the inside out, or you can use topical vitamin E directly onto your skin.
Finally the big one, coconut oil! Coconut oil really is a miracle that has a thousand uses. From fighting high cholesterol, to repairing dried out hair, coconut oil once again can come to the rescue! Coconut oil is incredibly moisturising, that it will restore the moisture in your skin in no time, as well as providing a cooling sensation for instant relief. Coconut oil is also rich in lauric acid, which when present in the body is converted into monolaurin, a compound that fights off viruses and other nasties. This makes it a great anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal remedy to prevent infections after burning.
It may seem an obvious statement to make, but when you’re enjoying a long awaited relax on the beach, or you’re down the park having a picnic, it can be easy to forget the importance of keeping hydrated. While sitting out the sun, your body will be constantly trying to bring your temperature down to a more comfortable state, and to do this, you need to sweat. Sweating can rapidly reduce the amount of water in your system, and so you will need to be drinking more water than you usually do. Failing to drink enough while sitting in the sun can lead to dehydration, which in turn can lead to headaches, fatigue and dizziness.
If out body temperature becomes too high, we can suffer from heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Heat exhaustion is when the body’s temperature becomes very high and starts to lose water and salts, leading to a general feeling of being unwell. Heatstroke is more serious, and occurs when the body can no longer cool itself down, leading to dangerously high body temperatures. This can really put a strain on your organs and cause other complications. Sitting in the shade and drinking plenty of fluids can help prevent any negative side effects of sitting in the sun.
Overall, the summer is a lovely time of year, but it is important to look after yourself. By taking simple the steps of choosing the right sun cream, having burn remedies to hand and keeping hydrated, you can keep healthy and enjoy the beautiful weather! Have a fantastic summer!