Health matters: Suntan and suncreens

Uppermill pharmacist Ian Strachan examines: Suntans and sunscreens

SUNBURN IS caused by exposure to sun’s rays – namely Ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Too much sun causes the skin to become hot red and painful. Your suntan arises because the skin produces a pigment called melanin when exposed to sunlight. Melanin is the skin’s way of protecting itself from UV rays. It does not however prevent premature ageing or skin cancer.

Who’s at risk? Some people are more at risk than others. For example fair skin and red hair is more prone to sunburn than olive skin and brown hair. But anyone can develop sunburn irrespective of their skin or hair colour.

Whatever the weather: Don’t be deceived: snow, ice, swimming or that stroll through Dovestones can all lead to sunburn and the need for sun protection.

You should apply a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or more. Children and young people are more prone to sunburn and should use a higher SPF.

Always use sunscreens with both UVA and UVB protection and apply thickly around 30 minutes before going out into the sun reapplying regularly throughout the day.

It’s also sensible to wear loose light-coloured clothing, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses that protect against those UV rays. One of the best pieces of advice I can give is to seek the shade between 11am and 3pm.

Here are a few questions I am commonly asked in my pharmacy and hope you find beneficial:

Can I use last year’s sunscreen? Most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2–3 years so as long as it’s not stored at high temperatures or in direct sunlight it should be fine. Store in a cool shaded place and never use after the expiry date.

What should I do if I get sunburn? Painkillers such as paracetamol or Ibuprofen will ease pain in helping to reduce inflammation. Sponge sore skin with cool water then apply soothing After Sun or Calamine lotion. If you feel unwell or the skin swells badly and blisters seek medical advice from your doctor.

Are my children more at risk of sunburn? Young skin is delicate and easily damaged by the sun. Apply sunscreen to areas not protected by clothes such as face, ears, feet and the backs of hands.

My Child has eczema, so which sunscreen should I use? Some sunscreens aggravate eczema, so avoid ingredients you know your child is allergic to. Test new sunscreens on a small area first. Apply your emollients and steroids firstly then apply sun protection cream 30 minutes before going out. Repeat sunscreens regularly and especially after swimming.

Should I cover my moles when I am in the sun? People with lots of moles or freckles are more at risk to the possibility of skin cancer so it is vital to take extra care. Seek shade, sensible clothing and sunscreen with an SPF of 15 minimum. Keep an eye on any changes to your skin and report any concerns to your doctor without delay.

In June: we will take a closer look at athlete’s foot but in the meantime and if we’re lucky enough, we’ll enjoy that summer sun.

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