This summer, make sure you know your UVAs from your UVBs and get SPF and sunscreen smart before you and your family head off on holiday or enjoy the sun at home
During the summer months or on a family holiday it's important that you and your children stay stafe in the sun. Find out what the experts recommend when it comes to which factor to use, type of sunscreen and how to make sure you're still enjoying the benefits of the nice weather. Get to the bottom of what all the different terms mean, too, with our sunscreen decoded section.
While both Cancer Research UK and the NHS suggest using sunscreen of at least SPF 15, Mr Paul Banwell, Consultant Plastic and Cosmetic Surgeon, tells MadeForMums, “An SPF of 30+ should be ‘de rigueur’.”
Paul continues, "It's important to remember that sunscreen should be used as a form of protection, rather than as a means to enable prolonged stints of exposure to sunlight."The advice from the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) is to “use a ‘high protection’ sunscreen of at least SPF 30 that also has high UVA protection".
This is echoed by Bevis Man, Community Manager for the British Skin Foundation (BSF), who tells us, "The BSF would recommend adults start with a sunscreen that has an SPF of 30, with a high UVA protection rating. For children, we recommend using a sunscreen with a high SPF, like SPF 50, as children's skin is more delicate and more sensitive to burning, as well as a high UVA rating." Cancer Research UK noted, “No sunscreen, no matter how high the factor, can provide 100% protection. And no sunscreen, whether it’s factor 15 or 50, will provide the protection it claims unless it is applied properly. Therefore, it is crucial that you apply sunscreen generously and regularly.”“Research has shown that people apply much less sunscreen than they need to. And, worryingly, many people burn more frequently when they use higher factors of sunscreen because they stay out in the sun for longer. There is a concern that higher factor sunscreens may lure people into a false sense of security,” Cancer Research UK continues.
It's important to keep an eye on expiry dates and remember to store bottles in a cool place, too.
The general consensus is to apply regularly and liberally. Plus every time you’ve been in water (even if using a waterproof version) or used a towel to rub your skin.
"It's important to note that applying less will reduce the protection to a higher degree than is proportionate – for example, only applying half the required amount can actually reduce the protection by as much as two-thirds," according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
As above, the overall message in terms of sunscreen is "more is better".
According to the European Commission, an average-sized adult needs six teaspoons full of sunscreen to cover their whole body. Sunscreen should be reapplied frequently, to maintain protection, particularly after perspiring, swimming or towelling.Mr Paul Banwell said, “Don’t forget the ‘forgotten’ areas such as ears and under the chin – or the soles of the feet if you are going to be lying down with exposure to the sun. The face and the neck are the areas most commonly affected by sun damage.”
Applying sunscreen several times a day can get frustrating, particularly on reluctant children. But Paul Banwell explains that, while manufacturers try to make sunscreen "cosmetically elegant", it needs to be reapplied in proper quantities on a regular basis. "Important above all else is not to let the skin burn," says Paul. Cancer Research UK echoes this. It notes, "Reapplying sunscreen regularly is very important because you are more likely to get even coverage and avoid missing bits that may otherwise get burnt.”
While sunscreens are marketed as being suitable for children or adults, Paul Banwell explains, “The SPF is the same and the quality is the same."
Bevis Man, BSF, adds, "This boils down to preference in terms of packaging, smell and colour, as opposed to a difference in effectiveness between an adult product and a child equivalent. Some sunscreens are coloured to make them moe fun to apply, for example, although the key things to look for are the SPF level and level of UVA protection."
Bevis continues, "Regardless of which sunscreen you use, it's always good to give it about 20 minutes after application before heading out into the sun to allow it to be effective."
As above, this is more about what you prefer, rather than either being technically better. As Bevis Man, BSF, told us, "This is more a case of preference and ease of use, particularly for parents who find that sprays are easier to apply on their children than sunscreen in a bottle. In terms of effectiveness of a sunscreen, for it to say that it is a particular SPF, it will have gone through all the necessary tests for it to offer this level of protection."
Dr Sandeep H Cliff, Consultant Dermatologist and surgeon, recommends that “if your child has sensitive skin or suffers from eczema, then use a hypoallergenic preparation [before exposure to UV rays]".As the NHS added, while adult and children sunscreens may not differ in terms of what the SPF means, children and baby sunscreens are often formulated to be less likely to irritate their skin.
This catchy phrase is part of an Australian campaign to remind you to slip on a t-shirt, slop on your sunscreen, slap on a hat and wrap on a good pair of sunglasses.
It's a good reminder that, as the British Association of Dermatologists explained, "Sunscreens should not be used as an alternative to clothing and shade, rather as additional protection.”
“Any barrier on the skin will help prevent UV exposure, so any form of clothing will have a benefit. Some more modern styles will have built in UV barrier technology,” explains Paul Banwell.It's also a important to use umbrellas, canopies, wear clothes that include a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves, particularly for young children whose skin is more susceptible to sun-related damage.
The skin cannot repair itself following repeated damaging exposure, which can become irreversible, resulting in skin cancer. Sun rays are strongest between 11am and 3pm, and can be tracked on the Met Office website.It's important to remember that harmful rays can pass through cloud. Dr Sandeep H Cliff revealed, “I know it’s hard to believe but, yes – the ultraviolet rays even in the UK can, and do, cause skin damage ultimately leading to skin cancer. The skin is usually able to repair itself but repetitive insults from the sun lead to irreversible cell damage and the development of skin cancer.” As Paul Banwell explains, “Our understanding of sun protection and the effects of UV radiation, the importance of vitamin D, calcium and skin cancer risks are changing all the time. We are learning new things all the time. What’s important above all else is to avoid burning.” Paul's key message is to remember that “burning episodes are the most sensitive future predictive factor of skin cancer formation in the future" and that we must "avoid burning at all costs.”
Even when we're in the shade, we can be exposed to harmful UV rays. As Cancer Research UK reports, “About 75% of sunburning rays are reflected back from snow, 15% from sand, 10% from concrete and 5-10% from water (depending on choppiness).
Both Paul Banwell and Dr Sandeep H Cliff agree that a substantial proportion of damage to our skin takes place during childhood when our skin is more vulnerable to the effects of the sun.
Bevis Man, BSF, adds, "It's only natural that children (inadvertently) expose themselves more than adults to the sun. By their nature, they will be out playing, swimming, paddling, etc, which means it's doubly important that they are adequately protected."
Dr Sandeep H Cliff explained, “Melanoma can and does occur in all races, but certain groups are more prone. These include people who burn easily – namely, the blond or red-haired individual.”
When it comes to babies and sunlight exposure, Helen Taylor, Independent midwife for Midwifecare.co.uk and harleystreet.com, says it's important to use our common sense. “Getting out and about in the fresh air is great, but be wise. Obvious, but make sure you apply sun protection to your baby - sun hat, cool cotton clothing, not naked with a nappy on! Use a sunshade umbrella with the pram or buggy. Avoid taking your baby out during the hottest part of the day,” says Helen. It's widely believed that babies up to one year of age should be kept out of direct sunlight, particularly between 11am and 3pm. Dr Sandeep H Cliff advises using a product that is broad spectrum in terms of its UVB and UVA protection when applying to babies.
Dr Bav Shergill, spokesperson for the BSF and consultant dermatologist, tells us, "Once babies are walking (and potentially if they're crawling), any parent will tell you that it's impossible to keep them in the shade, which means you have to make sure they are adequately sun protected with clothing and sunscreen."
While some schools may have their own policies on sunscreen administation, Cancer Research UK suggested giving children a hat to wear and, if they can't apply sunscreen at school, cover their exposed skin before they go. Educating children on staying in the shade and keeping hydrated as much as possible is important, too.
Helen Taylor tells MadeForMums, “Sunbathing sensibly is fine in pregnancy. Do be careful, though, as some women find their skin is more sensitive in pregnancy.”
Helen continues, “On a practical note, remember to be careful when pregnant about lying flat on your back at any time, not just to sunbathe. This is because the weight of the pregnant uterus can flatten or squash a major blood vessel (inferior vena cava) that runs along your spine. So, either lie slightly on one side – perhaps roll up a beach towel and put under side of you to tip you slightly on your side – or use a deck chair!”
Dr Bav Shergill, BSF spokesperson, adds, "There is no real data regarding in-utero sun exposure from 'bump exposure'. The risk here is to the mother, so she needs to follow the usual sun safety guidelines."
Dr Paul Banwell advised, “Getting some natural sun is fine as long as it is in moderation – we need it for vitamin D and also psychologically it's beneficial.” While absolute abstinence from burning is key, Dr Sandeep H Cliff said, “No one advocates complete avoidance of the sun – just cautious exposure."
Helen Taylor tells us, “Sunlight exposure is the most important source of vitamin D. Regularly going out even for a few minutes, while taking care to avoid sunburn, should be enough, with just a small amount of vitamin D coming from diet.”
Helen's thoughts are echoed by the Department of Health that states that, while vitamin D is naturally obtained from food such as oily fish and eggs, "it's difficult to get enough from food alone."
The general consensus is that most of us produce enough vitamin D through casual exposure to the sun. Although, as the BAD explains, it's difficult to give a precise level of sun exposure that will safely provide vitamin D, while not putting you at risk of skin cancer. It's important to take into account variables such as skin type, location, time, weather conditions, and more.
The BAD website stated, “We do know, however, that once your body has produced its maximum level of vitamin D, extra sunlight does not increase production and will result in skin damage.”
Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said, “People at risk of vitamin D deficiency, including pregnant women and children under 5, are already advised to take daily supplements. Our experts are clear – low levels of vitamin D can increase the risk of poor bone health, including rickets in young children.”
The NHS advice is as follows, "Indirect sun exposure may help a baby’s vitamin D levels. But, if mothers have enough vitamin D while they are pregnant, the chances are that their babies will do, too. It's best to speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s vitamin D levels.”
Mr Paul Banwell explained, “Sunscreen impairs UV radiation so will limit (not stop) vitamin D being produced.”
“Self-tanning agents (such as creams and sprays) contain compounds DHA (dihydroxyacetone) and riboflavin that protect the skin from visible light damage. By creating opaque chromophores (filters) on the skin’s surface it guards against potential damage. Self-tanning products should not be used as a substitute for SPF products," explained Mr Paul Banwell.
It's important to remember that, as Dr Sandeep H Cliff explained, “A number of moisturisers contain a sunscreen within them with a SPF of 15. However, these often tend not to be water-resistant and, by the very nature of their intended use, are applied a lot more thinly – thus, in practice, are often not providing the same level of protection as ‘pure’ sunscreens and also do not offer any UVA protection.”
Bevis Man, BSF, adds that, "UVA can penetrate window glass and penetrates the skin more deeply than UVB," so it's always adviseable to opt for a product that protects you from both.
Mr Paul Banwell is eager for sunbed myths to be dispelled. Paul said, “As obvious as it sounds... sunbeds are a BIG NO-NO. Capital ‘N’, capital ‘O’!! There is no place for them, whatsoever. The misconception about developing a base tan on a sunbed as a way of protection before a sunshine holiday is a dangerous myth that must be dispelled.”
Paul's warnings are echoed by Dr Sandeep H Cliff, who explained, “Some robust studies have shown that first exposure to sunbeds before the age of 35 increases the risk of melanoma by up to 75%.”
It's important not to brush off concerns based on the weather in the UK, either. Paul noted, “The lifetime risk of developing skin cancer in Australia is 1-in-3, compared to about 1-in-40 in the UK. While the incidence of skin cancer in the UK is significantly less than Australia, our mortality figures are higher and the number of people with skin cancer in this country is expected to dramatically increase in the next decade.
Being outside in the sunshine with the family is one of life’s feel-good treats. We all know about the benefits of encouraging children to exercise and play outdoors more, but there’s probably nothing more important you can do for your child’s skin than to protect it from the sun.
There are many reasons why your child might develop dry skin, from central heating inside the house to cold, dry air outside, from chlorine in swimming pools to chemicals in washing powder and soaps. Just like adults, some babies and children are simply more prone to dry skin than others.
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