Lonely Planet Writer

Sun Awareness Week: 12 things you should know about the sun, your skin and SPF

It’s Sun Awareness Week – and now that the sun has FINALLY arrived, what better time to remind yourself to take care of your skin.When British weather is what it is most of the year, the temptation to lie in the sun in minimal clothing screaming “TAN ME” can be great when it emerges. But of course, you don’t need us to tell you that too much sun isn’t safe when it comes to our skin.

A group of Spanish tourists sunbathe in Hyde Park, London.
Ah… the sun (Anthony Devlin/PA)

Here are some handy things to know:

1. A massive 80% of us don’t apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, or for a short time after, according to a poll by the British Association of Dermatologists.

2. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s.

3. There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma, the most common, and melanoma, which is less common but more dangerous.

4. You should wear sunscreen under your clothes too. According to the Skin Cancer Foundation, a standard white T-shirt packs an SPF value of only 7. The darker and thicker the clothing, the more protection it provides. A long-sleeved dark denim shirt offers “complete sun block”.

Apply it thick! (Thinkstock)

5. You’re at a higher risk of melanoma if you have red or blonde hair, green or blue eyes and/or freckles. Heredity also has a major role.

6. Safety aside, ultraviolet radiation is to blame for a lot of skin pigmentation and skin ageing. The sun’s rays destroy the elastic tissue inside the skin, making it less “springy” and therefore more prone to wrinkles.

7. There’s a UV patch, by L’Oreal’s La Roche-Posay, that will tell you exactly when you’ve had enough sun and it’s time to head to the shade.

8. An SPF (sun protection factor) is a measure of time it would take you to burn without protection, compared to with protection. So SPF 30 means you can theoretically stay in the sun for 30 times longer than you could without protection. In addition a higher SPF blocks out a higher percentage of UVB (ultraviolet B) rays. But of course a multitude of factors will affect your protection. If you apply sunscreen too thinly, it won’t protect you in the same way. The SPF will end up being much less than the label says.

9. SPF only relates to UVB rays though – not UVA rays. It’s UVA rays that are more closely linked to deeper skin damage. So make sure your sunscreen protects from both. Products containing zinc oxide or titanium dioxide will offer extra UVA protection.

10. Some foods can actually help protect against skin damage in the sun. Carotenoids – especially high in carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, apricots, tomatoes and dark leafy greens – are said to protect the skin against harmful UV rays.

Sweet potato
Eating orange foods like sweet potato can give you extra protection from the sun’s harmful rays (Thinkstock)

Nutritionist Shona Wilkinson says: “Astaxanthin is a carotenoid that is found predominantly in marine life and is one of the most powerful ‘internal sunscreens’ there is. It makes animals such as wild salmon and lobster pink. It’s claimed that you can stay out in the sun twice as long without burning “but still do be careful!”

11. Vitamin C also has strong properties to help protect against sun damage apparently. Nutritionist Cassandra Barns says: ”Make sure and consume plenty of vitamin C-rich foods such as lemons, pineapple, pawpaw, kiwi, broccoli, parsley and tomatoes. You can also pop a fizzy Vitamin C by Quest Vitamins from SuperfoodUK in your water.”

12. We actually NEED sunshine though. According to Nice, one in five adults may be deficient in vitamin D. People with darker skin are particularly at risk – during winter months nearly 75% of adults from Asian or African and Caribbean backgrounds may have low vitamin D levels. The vitamin plays an important role in our immune system, as well as helping to regulate the amount of calcium and phosphate in the body.//