Whilst the image of bronzed faces frolicking beneath a blazing blue sky may appear the picture of health to holiday-makers craving some much-needed Vitamin D, precautions must be taken to ensure you and your loved ones stay safe in the sun.
Put simply, sunburn damages your skin, promotes premature ageing and increases your risk of skin cancer. What’s more, it’s not really enough to remember to pack the sun cream as you’re preparing to take off to sunny Spain - it’s perfectly possible to damage your skin here in the UK too, even when it’s overcast.
Despite any false advertising you may have encountered over the years, it’s important to remember that there is no way to achieve a ‘healthy’ tan, unless you apply it from a bottle. Damage from sun beds and sunshine can occur in a matter of minutes and, in order to truly protect your skin, it is highly advisable to wear an SPF moisturiser every day.
So, how does the sun damage our skin? It’s down to the invisible UV rays that shine down on us from above. These can be broken down into two types.
UVA rays are the cause of those dreaded lines and wrinkles that set in as ageing accelerates. They also contribute to skin cancer. Tanning beds have come under fire in the media over the past few years due to the fact that they utilise these rays in order to achieve colour.
UVB rays are equally dangerous. These are the rays that cause sunburn and cataracts as well as contributing to skin cancer. In fact, it is thought that melanoma, a dangerous form of skin cancer can be linked to UVB sunburns that occur before the age of 20.
Melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK with around 15,000 people receiving a diagnosis each year. Even just getting sunburnt once every two years can triple your chance of developing cancer. Is it really worth the risk?
Of course, the number one weapon in your arsenal against the sun is sun cream. There are many different types and brands available that suit a variety of budgets and different requirements. You might choose one with added insect repellant if you’re planning on a jungle trek or one which is water resistant if you’ll be splashing around in the sea. However, there are a few important elements you should look for when you make your choice.
Firstly, look for the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle on the bottle and a UVA protection rating of at least four-stars. Secondly, check the expiry date of the sun cream - if it’s out-of-date, you simply can’t trust it will still offer the level of protection promised on the bottle. Finally, choose a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 to ensure you’re covered against those dangerous UVB rays. We would advise an SPF of at least 30 for children or if you are travelling to a country where the sun is notoriously strong.
It is important to remember that sun cream is not a magical cure. Be careful not to stay out in the sun for too long and avoid the sun entirely between the hours of 12-3pm when the rays are at their strongest. Additionally, ensure you re-apply liberally as instructed on the bottle at regular intervals throughout the day. Make sure you remember to tend to those easy-to-forget areas that are exposed to the sun the most, such as the top of your feet, hair partings and your ears.
Drinking lots of water and wearing a hat can also reduce the risk of sunburn as well as help to prevent heat exhaustion and dehydration, both of which can become serious if not spotted and dealt with as early as possible.
In the case of sun damage, prevention is better than cure. Enjoy your holidays this year but do your best to stay safe and protect yourself and your loved ones.
Another way you can protect yourself whilst on holiday is to prioritise booking the right travel insurance policy. Medical Travel Compared offer access to a variety of insurers, some of which provide cover for those with pre-existing conditions. Try out our online comparison tool today.