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Sun Awareness Week and protecting your skin against the sun

 Posted on 4th May 2021  4 minute read

This week is Sun Awareness week – a campaign dedicated to raising awareness and highlighting the dangers of sunburn and excessive tanning.

The national campaign launched by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD), aims to raise awareness of skin cancer, one of the most common types of cancer. In previous years, as part of there aim to educate the public, the BAD have organised mole checks, introduced Team GB’s Louis Smith and Greg Rutherford as Sun Awareness Week lifeguards and have also organised a ‘Don’t Bake, Bake’ campaign, encouraging people to bake treats to eat rather than bake in the sun.

Every year a theme is chosen and this year it is early detection which focuses on the importance of understanding our skin, examining moles that could potentially be cancerous and spotting any potential warning signs.

In a report released in 2017, it was revealed that more than 1 in 3 people (35%) were burning their skin every year in the sun, with a further 46% admitting to burning their skin whilst abroad. 

For those with vitiligo, it is imperative that we protect our skin, not just during the official summer, but all year round, as even when you think there isn’t much sunlight, the sun’s rays are still very much present. It has always been highly recommended that those with the condition invest in a good, quality sun cream that offers a high level of protection against the sun’s UV rays. Often there are many questions raised around the meaning of SPF, why the sun can put our skin in danger and why we need to wear a high SPF, so we thought we’d share the basics in what you need to know:

What is SPF?

SPF stands for sun protection factor and is often the first thing you will notice when purchasing sun cream. The SPF number that can be as low as 5 and as high as 100, tells you how long it would take for the sun’s UV radiation to redden your skin when exposed to the sun. For example, if you are more prone to burning after 10 minutes of being in the sun, using an SPF of 15 means you are likely to burn after 150 minutes (15 times longer) as opposed to an SPF of 50 which means you will burn after 500 minutes. An SPF of 50 blocks around 98% of the sun’s UVB rays.

UVA vs UVB – What’s the difference?

UV stands for Ultraviolet radiation and the UV rays you are likely to be most familiar with are UVA and UVB. UVA has longer wavelengths meaning the rays penetrate much deeper into the skin, way beyond the top layer; the epidermis. Long term exposure can lead to ageing skin and wrinkles, potentially causing long term damage. UVB, on the other hand, has shorter wavelengths meaning it causes the most damage to the epidermis – the top layer of the skin. It’s these rays that can cause burning on the skin, redness and can potentially cause skin cancer.

Why is it important that those with vitiligo protect their skin?

Those with vitiligo burn easily in the sun due to the lack of melanin in their skin. It’s the reason why it is imperative that we protect our skin with a sun cream that has a high SPF. Choosing the right sun cream is one of the most commonly asked question amongst the vitiligo community because those with the condition are often very conscious about protecting their skin against skin cancer. Using a good, quality sun cream with an SPF of 50 or above will help protect the skin as Professor David J Gawkrodger, Professor emeritus in dermatology, University of Sheffield points out;

‘It is important for people with vitiligo to cover up with clothing and use a high factor, i.e. factor 50 or above, sunblock during the warmer months. There are two reasons. One is to prevent the normally pigmented skin from pigmenting more and this making the vitiligo areas more prominent. The other is that sunburn can make vitiligo extend and may start a new area off’. 

There are so many ways in which we can protect our skin in addition to applying sun cream. Here’s how you can do that:

  • The sun is at it’s strongest between 11am and 3pm, so where possible seek shade during this time period to avoid to much exposure and always keep babies and young children in the shade as much as possible.
  • Ensure that you reapply sunscreen throughout the day – applying once simply isn’t enough. If you are going to be in the sun during long periods where there is a risk you may burn, apply at least twice a day or every 2 hours.
  • If you are planning to swim, use a water resistant sun cream, especially as UV rays reflect off of water increasing your exposure.
  • Wear protective and loose clothing – a hat to protect your scalp, sunglasses to protect your eyes and long sleeved tops and trousers. Close weave fabrics are a great option as they act as a barrier to sunlight.
  • Apply sun cream at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun. This leaves time for the cream to penetrate the skin and settle ensuring that you are protected by the time you find yourself walking in the sun.
  • Drink plenty of water to ensure you stay hydrated. The average intake of water is 1.5 – 2.5 litres a day, however, during the warmest months this ideally needs to be increased.

More information on Sun Awareness Week is available in the link below:

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