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. You should stay in the shade during these hours when possible. You should also protect your skin on the ski slopes.

People most at risk

The heat can affect anyone, but some people are at greater risk of serious harm. Remember to think of those who may be more at risk from the effects of heat. Listen to the weather forecast so you know if a heatwave is on the way. Plan ahead to reduce the risk of ill health from the heat.

Those most at risk of serious harm from the effects of heat include:

  • older people, especially those over 75
  • babies and young children
  • people with serious mental health problems
  • people on certain medication
  • people with a serious chronic condition, particularly breathing or heart problems
  • people who already have a high temperature from an infection
  • people who misuse alcohol or take illicit drugs
  • people with mobility problems
  • people who are physically active, like manual workers and athletes

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. Cars can become extremely warm on sunny days. Do not leave babies and small children in the car as they can become dangerously overheated very quickly.

Feeling unwell in the sun

If you or others start to feel unwell:

  • try to get help if you feel dizzy, weak, anxious or have intense thirst and headache; move to a cool place as soon as possible and measure your body temperature
  • drink water or fruit juice to rehydrate
  • rest immediately in a cool place if you have painful muscular cramps (particularly in the legs, arms or abdomen, in many cases after sustained exercise during very hot weather), and drink oral rehydration solutions containing electrolytes
  • medical attention is needed if heat cramps last more than one hour
  • speak with your doctor if you feel unusual symptoms or if symptoms persist
  • seek medical advice if the symptoms get worse or don't go away

If you suspect someone has heatstroke

Heatstroke can kill - it can develop very suddenly and rapidly lead to unconsciousness. If you suspect someone has heatstroke, call 999 immediately.

While waiting for the ambulance

  • move the person somewhere cooler
  • increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan
  • cool them down as quickly as possibly by loosening their clothes, sprinkling them with cold water or wrapping them in a damp sheet
  • if they are conscious, give them water or fruit juice to drink
  • do not give them aspirin or paracetamol

Sunscreens and how to use them

The weather can be unpredictable and people from Northern Ireland normally have skin that will burn very quickly from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. When the sun shines, don’t leave home without your sunscreen.

The UV Index tells you how strong the sun is. Where possible, look for the UV Index on the weather forecast – when it is 3 or higher you will need to apply sunscreen to your skin.

Sunscreens can work in a couple of ways as they:

  • reflect dangerous UV rays away from your skin
  • absorb UV rays before they can penetrate your skin

There are 2 types of UV radiation that we need to protect our skin from – UVA and UVB. UVA is associated with skin ageing, while UVB is mostly responsible for sunburn and has strong links to skin cancer.

UVA

UVA protection in sunscreen guards against skin ageing by filtering out UVA radiation. In Northern Ireland we measure UVA protection with a ‘star’ system ranging from 0-5 stars.

UVB (SPF)

SPF stands for ‘sun protection factor’ – the sunscreen’s ability to filter out UVB radiation. The higher the SPF number the greater the protection. SPF 15 will block 93 per cent of UV radiation, while a SPF 30+ will give more protection, screening out at least 96 per cent of UV radiation.

Experts recommend using a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 and a UVA rating of at least 4 stars.

Apply generously at least 30 minutes before going outdoors and reapply every 2 hours or more frequently, especially if it is being rubbed off through swimming exercise.

Sunscreens are available as:

  • gels
  • wipes
  • creams
  • roll-ons
  • sprays

Choose one with a scent and feel that you like. If skin sensitivity is an issue, go for products for sensitive skin or for children.

Keeping cool

It is best for your health to avoid getting too hot in the first place.

  • stay out of the sun between 11.00 am and 3.00 pm
  • if you have to go out in the heat, walk in the shade, apply sunscreen and wear suitable clothing, including a hat (suitable clothing includes a long-sleeved top and trousers or a long skirt in close-weave fabrics)
  • wear light, loose fitting cotton clothing
  • wear a broad brimmed hat as they protect your ears, neck and face
  • wear sunglasses
  • avoid extreme physical exertion, and if you can't avoid strenuous outdoor activity, like sport, DIY or gardening, keep it for cooler parts of the day like early in the morning or evening
  • have plenty of cold drinks such as water and avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks
  • eat cold foods, particularly salads and fruit with a high water content
  • take a cool shower, bath or body wash
  • sprinkle water over the skin or clothing, or keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck
  • Hot weather advice

Keeping your environment cool

Keeping your living space cool is especially important for infants, the elderly or those with chronic health conditions or those who can't look after themselves:

  • keep windows that are exposed to the sun closed during the day, and open windows at night when the temperature has dropped and it is safe to do so
  • close curtains that receive morning or afternoon sun
  • take care with metal blinds and dark curtains as they absorb heat - consider replacing them or putting reflective material in between them and the window
  • place a thermometer in your main living room and bedroom to keep a check on the temperature
  • turn off non-essential lights and electrical equipment - they generate heat
  • keep indoor plants and bowls of water in the house as evaporation helps keep cool the air
  • if possible, move into a cooler room especially for sleeping

Electrical fans may provide some relief if temperatures are below 35 degrees. Using a fan for temperatures above 35 degrees may not prevent heat related illness and may cause dehydration.

The advice is not to aim the fan directly on the body and to have regular drinks. This is especially important in the case of sick people confined to bed.

Protect your skin on the ski slopes

If you are going on a skiing holiday, you will need to protect yourself from the sun. Temperatures may be extremely cold but the risk of getting sunburn is still very high.

The risk of sunburn is much greater in mountainous regions than on sea level as the atmosphere is thinner and less pollution is present therefore making the UV rays much stronger.

You should also remember that the snow reflects almost 90 per cent of UV radiation meaning that the UV rays are much more likely to burn areas such as your nose or your skin if they aren’t covered up.

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:

  • always wear sunglasses that provide 100 per cent UV protection
  • all sunglasses should carry a consumer information label – make sure that yours block both UVA and UVB or look for the British Standard kite mark or the CE 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

Follow the care in the sun code:

  • stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day (11am-3pm)
  • even on a cool day with light cloud cover UV radiation can cause skin damage
  • cover up with clothing, hats and sunglasses
  • use a high factor sunscreen
  • keep hydrated
  • discourage sunbathing and practise what you preach – parents are role models

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