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Sun Awareness

Sun Awareness & Sunscreen Advice

What is a tan?

The dark pigment that gives the skin its natural colour is called melanin. Melanin is made in the skin by pigment cells called melanocytes. After our skin has been exposed to sunlight the melanocytes produce more melanin in attempt to absorb further UV radiation, and so the skin becomes darker.

A tan is actually a sign that the skin has been damaged and is trying to protect itself.

Why should we be careful?

We can over-do our sun exposure which can lead to skin cancer.

A tan is a sign that our skin has been harmed by UV radiation. This kind of damage can increase your risk of developing skin cancer: Sunburn (i.e. skin redness) and heavy tans can never be justified and are harmful.

Skin cancer can occur on parts of the body not exposed to sunlight. However, extensive sun exposure is responsible for four out of five cases, making skin cancer a preventable disease.

Ultra-violet (UVA and UVB) irradiation

  • UVA causes skin ageing and skin cancer and UVA protection in a sunscreen will help defend against both.   
  • UVB causes sunburn and skin cancer and UVB protection in a sunscreen will help defend against both.

How do sunscreens work?

  • Organic filters absorb harmful UV radiation and converts it into, and give it back out as, infrared. These are sometimes known as ‘absorbers’ or ‘chemical’ sunscreens.   
  • Inorganic filters contain titanium dioxide or zinc oxide, which reflect UV radiation away from the skin.

UVB - SPF system

Sunscreens are labelled with an ‘SPF’ or ‘sun protection factor’ which shows the level of protection against UVB. SPFs are rated on a scale of 2 to 50+ based on the level of protection.

UVA - Star system

Some sunscreens are also labelled with a UVA star rating which shows the level of protection against UVA. The stars range from 0 to 5 and indicate the % of UVA absorbed by the sunscreen in comparison to UVB.

What is broad spectrum & photo-stability?

You should also check that your chosen sun protection is photo-stable, which means that the UVA and UVB filters do not break down in the sun. Sunscreens that offer both UVA and UVB protection are sometimes called ‘broad spectrum’.

The MOLE Clinic recommends a photo-stable sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars AND protective shade and clothing.

Single application’ sunscreens.

Some sunscreens offer 8+ hours of protection from one application. However, this offer depends upon correct use. Most people apply less than half of the amount required to be safe. Areas such as the back and sides of the neck, temples and ears are often missed, so you need to apply it generously and be careful not to miss patches.

How to use sunscreen correctly

Always apply:

  • a thick layer
  • at appropriate intervals
  • to all exposed areas.

Exposure to water, sweating, towel drying and any form of abrasion can remove sun protectors from the surface of the skin and leave it exposed.

The MOLE Clinic recommends that sunscreen is re-applied liberally ever couple of hours to ensure that any exposed patches are protected.

What about SPF in moisturisers?

SPF in moisturisers are less likely to be rub-resistant and water resistant and are likely to be applied a lot more thinly than sunscreen. They therefore are unlikely to offer the same level of protection.

A moisturiser with an SPF will help protect you against small amounts of UV exposure, but sunscreen is better suited for longer, more deliberate UV exposure.

It is also worth noting that moisturisers containing an SPF may not contain any UVA protection.

How should I apply sunscreen?

  • When using lotions, you should to apply at least six full teaspoons to cover an average adult. Applying half the required amount can reduce the protection by as much as two-thirds.
  • Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow it to dry.
  • Reapply at least every 2 hours, and immediately after swimming, perspiring and towel drying or if it has rubbed off.
  • Be aware that reflection of the sun’s rays can greatly increase the power of the radiation - by up to 5% in water, 17% in sand and 85% in snow.

Can I still tan through sunscreen?

If no UV gets through, no damage - and therefore no tanning - can occur.

However, you may tan through a low to medium SPF sunscreen due to the tiny amount of UV which gets through, unless you very carefully and regularly apply lots of high SPF sunscreen with high UVA protection too.

The MOLE Clinic top sun safety tips

  • Protect the skin with clothing, including a hat, t-shirt and sunglasses.
  • Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm when it’s most sunny.
  • Use a ‘high protection’ sunscreen of at least SPF 30 which also has high UVA protection, and make sure you apply it generously and frequently when in the sun.
  • Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.