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Are You Sun Aware?

Posted in General Health 07 May, 2015

With summer just around the corner, our thoughts wander towards barbeques, beaches and bike rides through the meadows. An idealistic scenario, although chances are we'll get one scorching week before the all too familiar overcast skies and drizzle resume. However, we are also in the midst of Sun Awareness Week, so it's a a good time to consider the importance of protecting your skin.

The use of sunbeds has been widely reviewed and condemned. Significantly putting your health and life in danger, excessive use of sunbeds can lead to health complications, and even skin cancer. However, exposure to the sun can have the same result. Allowing your skin to burn instead of taking precautions has been proven to significantly increase your chances of getting skin cancer, as well as other long-term skin damage.

How do UV rays damage the skin?

There are two types of UV rays; UVA and UVB. UVA are the rays that penetrate deeply into the skin causing lasting harm. Harming the middle layer of your skin - known as the dermis – this layer keeps the skin looking fresh and full of elasticity. The cause of wrinkle and skin aging, UVA damage is irreversible.

UVB rays are absorbed on the top layer of the skin known as the epidermis. This causes the glorious tan some of us experience, but also the harmful burning. Whilst the UVB rays only affect the top layer, this doesn't mean they're any less dangerous. Both UVA and UBV rays cause skin cancer.

How do we tan?

How we tan and burn is all down to the colour pigment in our skin called melanin. The more we expose our skin to UV rays of both kinds, the more melanin our skin produces. You may think the tan you develop protects you from further harm – not so. Melanin is there to stop your skin burning so easily, but it doesn't protect you from UV rays.

Why is the sun important?

We love the summertime but the sun itself tends to get some bad press. Sun bashing is something medical professionals like to do, and with good reason – it can be extremely harmful, and its effect is completely irreversible. However, without the sun, we wouldn't be here.

Without diving headfirst into a pool of science, the sun warms our atmosphere and gives energy to the plants that feed us oxygen. It's quite important. The sun is the most common way our bodies receive vitamin D. An essential vitamin for healthy bones, your skin only absorb vitamin D from the sun from April to October as winter sun doesn't contain enough UVB rays.

The stigma surrounding the sun in relation to skin cancer is well documented, however what are the facts and which are the myths?

You can't get sunburnt on a cloudy day

As on windy or cool days, you can still get sunburnt if it's overcast. As mentioned above, the pigment in your skin changes due to the sun rays, NOT just temperature and amount of sunshine alone.

People with darker skin don't get skin cancer

Whilst olive and dark skinned individuals do have a reduced risk of skin cancer, anyone can develop it if they don't protect themselves, especially during childhood. Fair skin does, of course, burn more easily resulting in an increased chance of developing skin cancer.

Serial sunbathers always get skin cancer

While this does increase the danger, those desperate to get a tan on their annual holiday aren't the only ones at risk. states that sunny countries such as Australia have such high levels of radiation that even dog walking or gardening can lead to harmful exposure.

Fake tan protects you against UV rays

Some fake tans do have an SPF factor included, however just like make-up, fake tan will not protect you against UV rays. Fake tan is a layer of colour on the surface of your skin, not melanin, and provides little protection (up to 2 hours).

If you don't burn, you don't need protection

What you see as a healthy glow – and proof you've been on holiday – is still sun damage. The melanin is changing colour to protect your skin because the UV rays are damaging living cells – regardless of whether you turn red, brown or honey-coloured.

In the UK we tend to get excited the minute the sun appears. Tops are off and beaches are packed. One of the greatest things about living in the UK is that we have these changing seasons with a whole spectrum of weather to enjoy, including the fleeting sunshine. However, whilst the sun's rays are filling you up with vitamin D, they are also potentially damaging your skin too. Don't underestimate the sunshine – keep covered. If you fancy that bronzed glow, you could always head down the fake tan section in the pharmacy…

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