Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Staycation sun safety

And although most of us won’t be leaving the country to holiday in sunnier lands this year, we must remember that you don’t need to be on the beach in the Costa del Sol to be at risk of sun damage, so says Dr Michelle O'Driscoll
Dr Michelle O'Driscoll: Staycation sun safety

For more information on sun protection and the presentation of skin cancer, visit the Irish Skin Foundation’s website www.irishskin.ie/

WHILE discussing the Covid-19 pandemic with others, a common observation that has been made is “at least it happened at this time of year, the fine weather makes all the difference.” And how true that is!

Being able to venture outside to enjoy the increased temperatures and longer hours of sunlight has done wonders for our mood and outlook. Facing into months of restrictions coupled with dark evenings and gloomy weather would have been even more difficult.

And although most of us won’t be leaving the country to holiday in sunnier lands this year, we must remember that you don’t need to be on the beach in the Costa del Sol to be at risk of sun damage. That risk is very real right here in our own back gardens, and needs to be taken seriously.

To quantify that risk, the World Health Organisation developed a UV index, a measure from 1-11+ to indicate the radiation level at the surface of the Earth. Anything over 3, and our skin requires protection.

In Ireland, Level 3 is typically reached throughout the period from April to September, meaning that UV protection is required as part of your daily routine during those months at a minimum, regardless of cloud cover. As well as premature ageing, there is the increased risk of skin cancer at these levels, especially for those of us with type 1 or type 2 skin, which burns easily and tans poorly.

Understanding UV protection

There are two types of UV radiation – UVA and UVB. UVA is responsible for ageing and skin damage, while UVB is what causes burning of the skin. There are therefore two corresponding measures of protection: SPF (Sun Protection Factor) is available in strengths ranging from 2 to 50+ and quantifies protection offered against UVB rays. UVA protection is indicated on a product by a logo with “UVA” in a circle, usually accompanied by a number of stars underneath.

Check the packaging of your suncreams, moisturisers and makeup to become familiar with what protection they’re offering your skin.

What protection should I aim for?

It is recommended that adults should aim for SPF of at least 30, and children should use 50+. This should also include a UVA protection of 4-5 stars. Protection should be applied liberally 20-30 minutes before entering the sun, and reapplied at least every two hours. You should increase this frequency if needed after sweating, exercising, swimming or towel drying.

For children, spray formulations are excellent for ease of application, and the use of a clean makeup brush for the face area gives increased precision, and is a novelty for smallies. While some products boast a once-daily application, these are the products that should be used with extra caution as they have anecdotally led to some of the worst burnings due to complacency.

If the first application is affected in some way eg by swimming just before the time indicated, towelling too vigorously and removing it, or not applying enough in the first place, then the repercussions of not reapplying for the rest of the day can be very severe. At least with regular reapplication you’re getting peace of mind.

Other measures

While applying sun protection is vital, it’s also important to take all other precautions:

Stay in the shade where possible, particularly during the peak of the heat between 12 and 4pm.

Cover up skin with loose cotton clothing, especially children.

Wear wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses with UV protection.

Children’s swim suits are also available with built in UV protection, as UV can travel through water.

If you do get burned

Most people have at least one experience of underestimating the UV levels due to a cloudy day, or missing the reapplication window and suffering the consequences.

Treating subsequent sunburn can be done by using a moisturiser or aloe vera gel. Apply it straight from the fridge to increase the cooling effects. You can take OTC pain relief for particularly uncomfortable cases.

Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, and make sure to cover up the affected areas, or stay completely out of the sun if possible.

So while the sun is balm for the soul, it can be very dangerous for our skin. Whether it’s in the middle of an Irish heatwave, or just a regular semi-cloudy day we need to protect it with the appropriate measures.

For more information on sun protection and the presentation of skin cancer, visit the Irish Skin Foundation’s website www.irishskin.ie/ They provide very comprehensive advice on how to enjoy your summer staycation while minimising the risks to our skin.

We must remember that you don’t need to be on the beach in the Costa del Sol to be at risk of sun damage.

More in this section

Sponsored Content