Protection from the sun
It is important to protect yourself and your family from the harmful effects of the sun. The sun is at its strongest between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm and experts advise that you should stay in the shade during these hours when possible.
Sunscreens and how to use them
In Northern Ireland it is fair to say that the weather can be unpredictable. People from Northern Ireland normally have skin that will burn very quickly so, when the sun shines, do not leave home without your sunscreen.
Where possible look for the UV index on your local weather forecast. When it is three or higher you will need to apply sunscreen.
Sunscreens work in a couple of ways:
- they will reflect dangerous ultraviolet (UV) rays away from your skin and
- they absorb UV rays before they can penetrate your skin
For protection from both UVA and UVB radiation, choose a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has a star rating of three or more.
The intensity of radiation from the sun does vary depending on the sun's position, the time of year and which country you are in.
Experts recommend the use of a sunscreen of at least factor 15 as it will give the best balance between protection and cost.
- factor 15: only seven per cent of the harmful rays will get through
- factor 30: only four per cent of the harmful rays will get through
- factor 60: only two per cent of the harmful rays will get through
Apply generously at least 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply regularly, especially if it is being rubbed off through swimming or exercise.
Sunscreens come as gels, wipes, creams, roll-ons and sprays. Choose one with a smell, feel and look that you like. If skin sensitivity is an issue, go for products for sensitive skin or for children.
Keeping covered in the sun can help prevent you from getting burnt. Advice on clothes best suited for summer wear:
- long sleeves, collars, long trousers or long skirts give maximum protection
- choose lightweight fabrics and light colours
- fabrics with a tight weave (cotton, hemp or linen) provide more protection
- clothing that is old, worn or sometimes when it gets wet can have reduced protection
- some clothing will have UV rating – check the label – above ultraviolet protection factor (UVP) 15 is good
- if you require very high UV protection, choose dark colours – these are better at absorbing UV than light colours
- make sure you like what you are buying – clothes left hanging in the wardrobe protect no one
It is always advisable to wear a hat for protection against the sun because, unlike most of the body, the brain and the nervous system can easily be damaged by heat.
Brain proteins are very heat-sensitive. If your brain temperature rises much above 40° C, 'thermal stress' can cause heatstroke and even death.
The cheapest and most effective protection is a hat, especially one with a 10 cm brim.
Advice on hats best suited for summer wear:
- choose one you like – you are much more likely to wear it
- broad brims give the best protection, but you may prefer a baseball cap (if so, use a sunscreen (SPF 15+) on your unprotected ears and neck)
- a ‘legionnaire’ flap on your baseball hat provides excellent protection. You may be inventive and attach you own - especially for kids
- hats with fabric you can see through let the sun through
- choose a hat that fits both your head and your lifestyle. Hats that blow off quickly end up in the back of the car. Similarly hats that interfere with play – whatever the sport - just won’t last the pace
- hats protect your head from direct UV radiation, but remember that UV scatters and reflects off light surfaces like the beach. Always protect face, neck and ears with sunscreen (SPF 15+) and eyes with sunglasses
Remember sunglasses are not just a fashion accessory. They protect the eyes and the delicate skin around the eyes from the sun.
Advice on sunglasses:
- all sunglasses should carry a consumer information label – make sure that yours block both UVA and UVB or look for the British Standard mark
- do start wearing sunglasses early in life – once there is enough nose to perch them on - but it is never too late to start
- if you wear corrective lenses ask your optician for advice on UV-protective coating, attachable protective shades or prescription sunglasses
- coloured glasses are less effective at blocking UV
- polarisation reduces glare but has little effect on UV blocking
- wrap-arounds and close fitting sunglasses allow minimum UV to reach the eyes – no sneaking in at the sides
- overexposure to UV can cause eye irritation, damage to the tissues and temporary blindness (snow blindness). It is now known to cause the development of cataracts
A child under six months old should never be exposed to direct sunlight, as they burn much faster than adults. Even in the shade, they can be burned by reflected UV.
Never use a closed car to provide shade, as cars turn into mini ovens on sunny days. Do not leave babies and small children in the car, as they can rapidly become dangerously overheated!
Follow the Care in the Sun code:
- cover up - with clothing and hats
- use a high factor sunscreen
- stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day: 11.00 am to 3.00 pm
- don't get dehydrated