Updated 23 November 2016

You need to know this if you're spending too much time in the sun

With the onset of the recent heatwave, not staying hydrated and protecting your skin could endanger your health.

You may be feeling the need to let your skin breathe in the summer warmth as the festive season approaches. But with the onset of the recent heatwave, not staying hydrated and protecting your skin could endanger your health.

2016 may very well be the hottest year ever recorded in Africa.

This is according to a report by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which explained that the blistering heat may be partially due to climate change and because of the strong El Nino phase that we’re experiencing. El Nino refers to the irregular intervals at which the surface temperatures of pacific seas become either warmer or cooler.  

Read: First aid for heat exhaustion

Health24 resident doctors, Dr Owen Wiese and Dr Heidi van Deventer, shared some advice on how people can stay cool and have fun without putting their health at risk.

Dr Owen Wiese warned that prolonged exposure to intense sun can lead to heatstroke. "Heatstroke is a dangerous and even life threatening condition."

He explained that continuous exposure to high temperatures and dehydration that follows heat exposure lead to the body not being able to adequately control body temperature.

"Nausea, vomiting, confusion, disorientation, seizures and even coma may follow as the central nervous system of the body is affected. Organ function is affected and may lead to death."

Dr Wiese noted that heat exhaustion, fainting and heat cramps are much more common.

He advised that people can protect themselves from the sun by making use of sunscreen, dressing with cool clothing and wearing hats or caps, keeping hydrated and avoiding prolonged sun exposure.

Read: How to prevent of dehydration

Dehydration in itself is dangerous and can lead to significant problems.

"Do not do heavy exercise or work where one would sweat a lot and lose a lot of fluid," recommended Dr Van Deventer.

She said when one is thirsty it is already a sign of being dehydrated and this can lead to significant problems. Dangerous signs to look out for are darkening urine, severe thirst, irritability or lethargy (in children), palpitations and dizziness.

"It is especially dangerous in children, they dehydrate very quickly."

Exposure to the sun isn’t bad when done in moderation as it’s a good source of Vitamin D, but over-exposure to the harmful rays of the sun can cause serious damage to your skin and overall health.

Regardless of age or gender - everyone needs protection from the sun's ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) rays.

With skin being the largest organ in the body, it needs to be well-taken care of, according to Dr Nicola Rains, who is a general practitioner at NHC Health Centres.

Read: Health tips for the holidays

"Your skin has many important functions that affect your overall health, and while the same principles apply for skincare all year around, it’s important to take a few extra cautions to make sure your skin is Summer-ready."

Dr Nicola Rains pointed out that the body tends to lose more moisture in the summer heat so it’s important to stay hydrated at all times. "The easiest way is to drink a lot of water, two litres a day is recommended for an adult."

When heat and humidity rise, the skin tends to produce excess oil in response, so it is essential to add toning and exfoliating to your skincare routine, said Dr Rains.

Exfoliation removes dry or dead skin cells and improves blood circulation, but should be done less often in the summer. It is recommended that you scrub no more than twice a week because overdoing it can break down the skin barrier and increase sun-sensitivity when you spend more time outside.  

Toning removes residual dirt or oil, and should be the final step in cleansing your skin.

Dr Rains recommended using a good quality sunscreen religiously, preferably one with a broad-spectrum and high sun protection factor (the higher the SPF the stronger the protection).

"Apply the sunscreen every two hours or sooner if you have been sweating or swimming, spreading it generously on all skin that is exposed to the sun," she concluded.

Also read: 

SEE: 8 places to go hiking in South Africa this summer

7 reasons why the sun is good for you 

How to survive the party season


Live healthier

Lifestyle »

E-cigarettes: Here are five things to know

E-cigarettes have become hugely popular in the past decade, but a rash of vaping-linked deaths and illnesses in the US is feeding caution about a product that's already banned in some places.

Allergy »

Ditch the itch: Researchers find new drug to fight hives

A new drug works by targeting an immune system antibody called immunoglobulin E, which is responsible for the allergic reaction that causes hives.