Tuesday, 12 May 2009
A suntan is the goal of a summer holiday for many travellers, however, it should be remembered that a tan is the visible effect of damage to the skin from the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This damage may lead to skin ageing and cancer.
Time of day
The highest levels of UV light are when the sun is at its highest point in the sky. This usually occurs between the hours of 10am and 3pm when sun exposure should be kept to a minimum.
UVB and UVA levels vary greatly between winter and summer in mild climates but are more constant between seasons in areas closer to the equator such as Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, tropical South America and Australia.
When UV radiation is absorbed by DNA damage to the cell occurs. As a result the cell tries to mend itself by releasing chemicals. Sunburn is a visible reaction to this repair process. In some cases the damage to the cell is so severe that it dies, resulting in skin peeling and blistering.
Sunburn is characterised by redness, warmth and pain of varying degrees. In more severe cases swelling, blistering and weeping of the skin can occur.
Drinking plenty of non alcoholic fluids, taking pain killers and a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen can be useful in relieving these symptoms.
Tanning occurs when melanin is produced in an attempt to protect the skin cells from UV radiation. A tan is therefore a sign of damaged skin. It may protect against further burning, but offers no protection against the effects of radiation, that can lead to skin cancer.
The main way of avoiding UV damage is to reduce the amount of exposure to the sun. It is still possible to enjoy the sun, but extra precautions should be taken.
Sunscreen creams or lotions are the one of the most common methods used to protect skin against sun damage. They contain chemicals that absorb various wavelengths of UV light. Sunscreens are rated by their sun protection factor (SPF). This refers to the protection against sunburn received after applying the sunscreen compared to not using it. Sunscreens with higher SPF ratings give a longer duration of protection against the damaging effects of the sun. As an example, if it takes 10 minutes to become sunburned, applying a cream with an SPF of 15 means that it will take 15 times as long, or 150 minutes to develop sunburn.
• Avoid sun exposure when the sun is at its highest point in the sky (from 10am to 3pm).
• Always apply a correct amount of sun-cream. Most people apply too little which reduces the effectiveness of the sunscreen. About 2 tablespoons of sunscreen will be needed to protect an average adult; however, always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
• Always use a sunscreen with a high SPF (usually 15 or higher). They may need to be used even on cloudy days.
• Sunscreen should be applied at least 30 minutes before exposure to the sun. It should be reapplied about every two hours, and also after swimming and vigorous exercise.
• Sunscreens may be less effective in protecting against UVA rays, so it is very important to limit your time in the sun.
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect the head and face.
• Cover as much skin as possible with sun-protective clothing if you are unable to avoid being out in the sun from 10am to 3pm.
• Children are particularly vulnerable to the damaging effects of sunlight. Babies under 6 months of age should never be exposed to direct sunlight and young children should always have a high SPF applied.
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