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Sun Care Tips and Advice

When spending time in the sun it is important to protect you and your children's skin to avoid sunburn and/or heat exhaustion. Ideally, you should use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15, and one that protects against UVA and UVB rays. The higher the SPF the better protection you provide for your skin.

Sun Protection Factor, or SPF as it is commonly known, measures the amount of UVB protection. The higher SPF number the more protection it provides. Within the UK sunscreens are given a star rating from 0-5, this number is the UVA protection rating. The higher the number of stars given, the greater protection you have.

How To Prevent Sun Damage:

Ideally, you would not spend any more time in the sun than you would if you weren't wearing sunblock. Using sunscreen isn't an excuse to spend more time in the sun, as it is used as protection when exposed to the sun. The most dangerous times to spend in the sun are between 11 am and 3 pm as this is when the sun is at it's strongest. Ideally, during this period you should spend time in the shade or go indoors. Some radiation passes through light cloud, so it is important to still apply sun lotion even if it is cloudy.

Even though many sun lotions are listed as waterproof, these can still be washed off in water so it is ideal to re-apply after going in the water. The cooling effect water has on your skin can disguise the fact that you are getting burnt. Water also reflects UV rays, so can increase your exposure, especially on the beach and around hotel pools.

Damage From Sunburn:

When your skin begins to tan, it is a sign that your skin is damaged and is trying to protect itself. UV radiation causes your skin to produce more melanin pigment, which gives your skin a darker colour, designed to protect against further damage.

Spending too long in the sun will damage your skin and cause it to burn, which turns the skin red, hot and painful. When your skin becomes sunburn it can start to peel, and if it is severely sunburnt you may require medical treatment. If you develop sunburn then the genetic material inside your cells becomes damaged, which could lead to skin cancer.

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Overexposure from UV rays, from the sun or sunbeds, is the main cause of skin cancer. Your risk increases if you have fair skin, however, there are other factors, especially if you have a family history of skin cancer. There are 2 types of skin cancer, melanoma and non-melanoma, the most serious form is melanoma, however, this can be treated if found early enough. The chances of you developing melanoma are increased if you get badly burnt, especially as a child. Non-melanoma is more likely to occur in people that are exposed to the sun for longer periods throughout their life, for example, if you work outdoors. The first signs to look out for in non-melanoma skin cancer is the appearance of a lump or patch on the skin that doesn't heal within a few weeks. The common signs of melanoma skin cancer are the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole, more often on the back, legs, arms and face.

As well as the risk of cancer, exposing your skin to the sun for long periods without protection will cause premature ageing as it becomes wrinkled and leathery, your skin will become dry and lose its elasticity. Younger children are at a higher risk of sunburn as their skin is more delicate and is easily damaged by the sun. There is a range of sun creams available that are specifically designed for children, they tend to be formulated for young skin and should at least have an SPF rating of 15, and have a 5 star UVA rating. If your child has eczema then certain sunblock can cause irritation, so it is important to check if there are any ingredients within the cream that they are allergic to before applying.

You should check your skin regularly for moles or signs of moles that have shown changes. Most changes will be harmless, however, you should book a visit with your GP if a mole grows in size, changes to an irregular shape, changes colour, becomes itchy, starts to bleed or becomes crusty. To ensure that you reduce the risk of damaging your skin or getting skin cancer, you should apply sunscreen at regular intervals, mostly every 2 hours, and use a sunscreen that has a high SPF and high UVA star rating.

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For more information on Sun Protection and Sunburn, please visit the NHS Choices website.