Essential Sun Guide
"You can still have fun in the sun, but it's absolutely vital to protect your skin from the harmful effects of sunlight, at home and abroad, especially as skin cancers are on the increase in the UK," says Dr Lowe.
Here are his commit-to-memory tips to help you stay safe:
- Be true to type
All skin tones need protection from the sun - even if you have medium, olive, or dark toned skin, you should still use an SPF 15 sunscreen. Those with fair skins should be extra careful, raising their protection level to an SPF 30 in strong sunlight. Redheads are extremely sun-sensitive, as their melanin profile is quite different to non-redheads, having considerably more of the reddish phaeomelanin, as opposed to the more protective darker eumelanin. This is why they should never try to develop a tan. Redheads are advised to avoid sitting in the sun without protective clothing, and should use an SPF 30 on sun-exposed skin.
- Be age conscious
Apart from the risks of skin cancers posed by unprotected exposure, the sun also causes ageing and this is true for all skin types. If you don't protect your skin in strong UV light, you'll end up with more wrinkles and sun spots, and therefore look much older than you would have done had you protected your skin.
- Be broadminded
Everyone needs to choose a 'broad-spectrum' sunscreen, which means a formula that offers a high enough SPF to shield skin from the burning UVB rays that can cause cancers, as well as proven UVA protection - UVA rays are not only ageing but have also been implicated in triggering cancer. If you're swimming or playing sport, look for 'water-resistant' formulations.
- Be generous
It's surprising how many people reach for the sunscreen but don't use enough. Too thin a layer - no matter how high the factor - means you won't benefit from the protection rating on the label. On average, you should use: - One teaspoonful for the face, neck and backs of hands. - A level tablespoon for the front of the body, another for the back, at least another for the legs and nearly another for your arms. Reapply regularly, every two hours or so, and always after swimming, heavy perspiring or towelling off. Stay in the shade between 10am and 2pm, when the sun is at its strongest. And if you have short hair, wear a hat with a brim or a cap with a neck cover.
- Beware of sun beds
It's a myth that a tan from a sun bed prepares your skin for sun exposure. The colour produced by UVA tanning beds is not a 'real' tan. UVA only encourages the production of pigment in the cells that are pigment-forming (about 1 in 10 of epidermal cells) without stimulating transfer to the rest of the epidermis. Therefore, it does not protect skin from direct sunlight.
- Be fashion forward
- While it's true that a tan developed slowly, in response to the sun's UVB and UVA rays, under the continuous protection of a minimum SPF 15, is more protective than a sun bed tan, redheads and people with very fair skins will not - and should not try to - achieve a tan in any circumstances. It's also worth noting that sunburn provokes blistering and rapid shedding of skin cells, which leaves skin more vulnerable to harmful rays.
Special sun protection clothing is a very useful addition to sunscreen use, especially if you have fair skin, enabling you to go out and enjoy the sun with confidence - but don't forget to apply sunscreen to exposed skin. There are two brands Dr Lowe uses - 'Sun Precautions' from the USA and 'Coolibar' from Australia. You can find them on the internet and order online. Comfortable and light to wear, they have proven high sun protection values. Check out the items suitable for swimming - they are still highly protective when wet.
- Be in the know about Vitamin D
Studies show that sufficient levels of vitamin D may help reduce the risk of certain diseases such as colon, breast and prostate cancer. However, recent research, presented at the American Academy of Dermatology by Dr Michael Holick MD PhD, Professor of Medicine at Boston University, revealed that people in Northern latitudes are more likely to be vitamin D deficient, especially after the winter due to lack of sunlight. This is because it is not only food that is a source of vitamin D - sunlight also stimulates the skin to produce it. That said, this is most definitely not a licence to tan. Because of the risk of skin cancer from the sun's rays, Dr Lowe says that it is far better to protect the skin from the sun and take an oral supplement of 1000-2000 IU of vitamin D3 every morning, especially if you are not getting enough vitamin D from your diet.
- Be smart with your meds
Some medicines increase sensitivity to sunlight - for example, some antibiotics such as the tetracyclines, some diuretic pills, such as the thiazides and some heart medicines e.g. Amiodarone. What's more, the contraceptive pill increases the chance of skin discoloration in the sun. Given a wide variety of medicines can make skin photosensitive, if you are on any medications and are going to be in sunny places ask your doctor or pharmacist in advance if this is a risk.