With summer here and the promise of blue skies and warm sunny days hopefully on the horizon, it is essential for us to be sun safe. Between SPF, UVA and UVB, do you know what to look for in sunscreen to ensure your family is protected?
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Even on overcast or windy days, throughout the year the sun’s rays can penetrate through the ozone layer, so understanding the protection that your chosen sun cream offers, is vital. Read on to learn what to look for in sunscreen for your family.
What Do UVA and UVB Mean?
UV stands for ultraviolet, and both UVA and UVB are ultraviolet radiation (rays) from the sun that penetrate the ozone layer. Both UVA and UVB rays are harmful to unprotected skin when exposed for prolonged periods with no sun cream.
UVB is the main cause of burning, and mainly affects the outer layer or epidermis of the skin. However, UVA can penetrate deeper into the skin and affect cells within the dermis and subcutaneous layers of the skin. Both UVA and UVB can cause cells to mutate and lead to cancer.
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What is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor and is the indicator of the protection a sunscreen offers against the ultraviolet (UVB) rays from the sun. Without any protection, skin can burn and prolonged exposure to the sun’s rays can cause premature ageing and, in some cases, skin cancer.
A sun cream with an SPF of 15 means it will take approximately 15 times longer for the skin to burn than if you have no sun cream on; or with an SPF of 30 means it will take 30 times longer and so on.
The SPF offers a screen from the UVB rays from the sun: SPF 15 will screen approximately 93% of the UVB rays, SPF 30 screens 97% and SPF50 screens 98%. Remember the SPF is just an indicator, and unless you apply ample amounts of sun cream, you may not reach these protection levels.
It is vital that the sun cream you choose also offers protection against UVA radiation too.
Does My Sun Cream Offer UVA Protection?
All good sun creams have a UVA star rating that goes from 1 to 5. It is usually found in a circle on the back of the sun cream packaging. The higher the star rating, the more protection that cream offers from the UVA rays. These are the rays that can penetrate further into the skin.
So even if you are using a sun cream with a lower SPF, it is best to ensure it has a high star rating against UVA rays. If you are unsure of the UVA protection offered, ask your pharmacist.
What About Vitamin D?
Vitamin D is essential to the maintenance of good bones and teeth health as it aids the absorption of calcium. Your body produces vitamin D when it is directly exposed to the UV rays from the sun.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises that during summer months, your body will produce enough vitamin D when skin is directly exposed to the sun for between 5 and 15 minutes, 2-3 times a week.
It is best to get this exposure outside of high risk times when the sun is at it hottest; and apply sun cream at all other times.
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How to Stay Sun Safe
- Choose a sun cream with an SPF of at least 15 and a good UVA star rating.
- Always apply sun cream at least 20 minutes before you go outside, but ideally leave 30 minutes for it to absorb fully.
- Don’t skimp on sun cream; it is better to put on too much than too little.
- Use water resistant sun cream if you intend to swim, do water sports or you think you will sweat more than normal.
- Re-apply sun cream at least every 2 hours, or immediately after being in the water or sweating.
- Remember the sun’s rays are reflected off water (as well as snow and ice in winter months) so you are exposed twice, once as it hits your skin and again when the rays bounce or reflect back onto your skin.
- Stay in the shade during the hottest time of the day and always keep young children and babies out of direct sunlight.
- Stay hydrated.
- Ensure your sunglasses have a UV filter to offer protection to your eyes.
- Cover your head with a hat or a bandana. You may not think of putting sun cream on your head, but your scalp can be exposed where your hair parts and can burn easily.
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