First aid

28 October 2005

Sensible sun fun

Tanning and lying in the sun and soaking up the sun's rays used to be considered both pleasant and healthy. Now we know better.

Tanning and lying in the sun and soaking up the sun's rays used to be considered both pleasant and healthy ... before we became aware of the dangers of exposure to ultraviolet rays.

Nowadays we are aware that we need to avoid being overexposed to the sun and that excessive sun can lead to sunburn, wrinkles, skin texture changes and skin cancers.

What are the sun's rays?
The sun produces both visible and invisible rays. The invisible rays are known as ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B (UVB). These types of rays are the so-called "problem rays", as they cause sun damage.

UV rays are more intense during the summer months, closer to the equator and at higher altitudes. The UV rays' harmful effects are also increased by reflections from water, sand and snow. Even on cloudy days UV rays can cause skin damage.

Protection from the sun
Sun protection should start in infancy and continue throughout life. Remember that sun protection in childhood is very important in preventing skin cancer later in life.

The use of adequate sun protection measures assists in preventing skin damage and reducing the risk of skin cancer.

Sun protection measures include:

  • Planning outdoor activities early or late in the day to avoid peak sunlight hours between 10:00 and 16:00.
  • Dressing sensibly. Most clothing absorbs or reflects UV rays, but certain clothing (like white cotton clothes and wet clothes) does not offer much protection.
  • Generally, the tighter the weaving of the clothing, the more sun protection it will offer.
  • Wearing a wide-brimmed hat.
  • Wearing sunglasses.
  • Using beach umbrellas and other kinds of shade, but remember that they do not provide full protection, as UV rays can still bounce off sand and water.

Using sunscreens:

  • Sunscreens should be applied about 20 minutes before going outdoors
  • Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen on all exposed skin, even on cloudy days
  • If swimming, use a water-resistant sunscreen
  • Reapply the sunscreen frequently (at least every one and a half hours, or even more often if sunny, swimming or heavily perspiring).

Everyone should be able to enjoy sunny days. However, by using a little common sense and discipline, it is possible to spend some time outdoors in a safe and responsible manner. If you have any concerns, speak to your doctor for more information.

- Medi-Clinic, October 2005


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