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Thanks to our somewhat temperamental climate, us Brits have a tendency to flock to beaches and parks at the very first hint of warm weather.
In a flurry of excitement we don shorts, skirts and swimsuits, baring our sun-starved skin to the glorious, golden rays often without a thought of the possible consequences. And while exposure to the sun does has positive benefits to both physical and mental health, it can also wreak havoc, which is why taking a few simple precautions will help you make the most of those long summer days.
If you want to be sun savvy, then preparation is the key. Just as you wouldn’t leave a new-born in the sun without protection, your own skin is also more vulnerable after a winter spent locked inside, which is why wearing a good SPF is vital.
Fortunately, many makeup and skincare brands now include sunscreen in their moisturisers and foundations, making it far easier to include facial protection in your day-to-day routine – it may seem like a strange concept to wear sun cream throughout the year, but ultraviolet rays are always present and penetrate clouds.
As with most things in life you get what you pay for, and it really is worth investing in some top-notch sun protection.
Firstly, it is important to understand what the SPF factor means. Contrary to popular belief, a higher SPF doesn’t mean that a factor 50 offers a higher level of protection than say, a factor 15. This is because the SPF number tells you how much longer it will take for your skin to burn than if you weren’t wearing any sunscreen at all. So if you’re wearing 50 SPF, it will take 50 times longer for your skin to turn red than if you weren’t wearing it.
Secondly, make sure your sunscreen offers ‘broad-spectrum protection’ rather than just SPF which only measures your skin’s ability to block UVB rays – these rays damage the outer layers of your skin and can cause sunburn and even blistering. Broad spectrum products, however, also protect your skin from UVA rays which are the more insidious of the two as they penetrate your skin at a deeper level and are proven to contribute to the development of skin cancer.
Also, be sure to choose a sunscreen that is tailored to your individual needs. If you have sensitive skin or want to use it on your face, then invest in a product that is sympathetic to those needs. Or if the sun cream is for your children who are spending the day by the pool, make sure it is waterproof and easy to apply.
While sunscreen works wonders, there are areas it cannot protect, such as your scalp and your eyes. If you’re not a hat person you may want to consider a head scarf or bandana, and when it comes to your eyes, well… who doesn’t look cool in a pair of sunglasses?
For really scorching summer days you may want to consider avoiding the sun altogether, or at least staying in the shade as much as possible. The sun’s rays are at their hottest (and therefore most dangerous) at midday, so early morning or late afternoon sunbathing is far safer. And always try to avoid sleeping in direct sunlight, particular if you have a friend who is nifty at sun cream art!
The truth is, there is no such thing as a safe suntan. By its definition, it is a positive side-effect of skin damage and does contribute to both to the appearance of ageing and numerous skin cancers. However, if you must tan make sure to do so slowly, sensibly and with a lot of soothing moisturiser afterwards. Your skin will thank you in the long run.