Sun safety and dealing with sunburn

If you’re going somewhere hot it’s important to protect yourself against the sun. If you’re indoors there may be air conditioning. But if you’re out and about it’s important to find shade, wear the right clothes, protect your skin and keep drinking water.

Sun safety checklist

Finding shade

One of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun is to spend some time in the shade especially when the sun is at its strongest. This could mean spending time indoors, under an umbrella, under a shady tree or in a tent.

What to wear

If you’re outside, the more skin you cover up the less likely you are to burn. A wide-brimmed hat will keep the sun off your head and protect your face, ears and neck. Loose-fitting clothes made from materials with a close weave (such as cotton) will prevent the sun getting through. To protect your arms and shoulders choose long sleeves. Long skirts and trousers can protect your legs.

Protect your eyes

Too much sun can burn the surface of your eyes so it’s important to wear a good pair of sunglasses and avoid looking directly at the sun as this can cause permanent eye damage.

When you’re buying sunglasses look for those with a CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005 sticker on them or with a UV 400 label or 100% UV protection written on the label or sticker. It’s also recommended that you choose a pair that provide protection at the side of the eye such as wraparound sunglasses.

Look after your skin

Sunburn is not only uncomfortable but it can increase your risk of skin cancer particularly if you have lots of moles or freckles.

If you have pale skin, tend to burn rather than tan or have a family history of skin cancer you need to take particular care. If you’re worried that you may be more prone to sunburn than other people you can find out more from Cancer Research UK.

Use sunscreen to help protect your skin but don’t rely on this alone. It’s important to wear suitable clothing and spend time in the shade when the sun is at its hottest.

It’s particularly important to use sunscreen if you are on the beach or by the pool where keeping covered up is not always practical. And don’t spend any longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen.

Use sunscreen

When it comes to choosing sunscreen the brand is less important than the protection you get.

Choose one with:

  • a SPF of at least factor 15 – the British Association of Dermatologists recommends a SPF of 30.
  • at last four-star UVA protection – if it has UVA in a circle written on the packaging it meets the EU standard.

If you have any sunscreen left over from a previous holiday check it’s not past its expiry date as this will reduce its effectiveness. Most sunscreens have a shelf life of two to three years.

To be effective you need to use around two teaspoons of sunscreen on your head, arms and neck and two tablespoons if you’re covering your whole body while wearing a swimming costume. Any less and you risk burning.

And if you’re going to be in the sun for any length of time you should apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out and then again just before you leave. You should re-apply it frequently throughout the day.

It’s particularly important to keep applying sunscreen if you’re getting in and out of water even if you are using a water-resistant brand. Re-apply it as soon as you get out of the water, after towel drying, sweating or whenever it may get rubbed off.

Take extra care with children

Children have much more sensitive skin than adults so you need to take particular care with them. Not only do they burn more easily than adults but damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.

So keep children well protected and keep babies under six months out of direct strong sunlight at all times.

Keep hydrated

Make sure you drink plenty of water throughout the day. This is particularly important if you have sugary, alcoholic and caffeinated drinks as these can make you more dehydrated. If you start to feel dizzy, tired, have a dry mouth, headache or upset stomach this could be a sign that you are dehydrated.

Signs that a baby may be dehydrated include a sunken soft spot on their head, few or no tears when they cry, a dry mouth, fewer wet nappies, dark yellow urine, drowsiness, fast breathing or cold and blotchy-looking hands and feet. If your baby becomes dehydrated you should seek medical help at once. You can find out more about this on the NHS Choices website.

How to treat sunburn

If you do get sunburnt gently sponge your skin with cold water and apply aftersun or calamine lotion to the affected area. You can also take painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain and reduce any swelling.

If you feel unwell or are badly blistered you should seek medical help.

If you do get burnt remember to stay out of the sun until all signs of your sunburn have gone.

What to do if you’ve had too much sun

There are several signs that you’ve had too much sun and may be suffering from heat exhaustion. These include feeling dizzy or faint, getting a headache, having muscle cramps, feeling sick, sweating heavily, being very thirsty, having a fast pulse or urinating less often and your urine being much darker than usual.

If you have one or more of these symptoms you should:

  • lie down in a cool place
  • remove unnecessary clothing and expose your skin
  • cool your skin – this could be with flannels, ice packs, wet sheets etc
  • fan your skin while it’s moist
  • drink lots of fluids – ideally water, fruit juice or a rehydration drink.

Make sure someone is with you and stays until you start to feel better. This takes most people around 30 minutes.

If you fall unconscious emergency medical help should be sought immediately.

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