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Sunsafe - Choose the right sun protection


Most of us love to relax in the sun and feel its revitalising warmth, but shielding your skin from the harmful effects of its ultra-violet (UV) rays that contribute to premature skin ageing and skin cancer has never been more important. Dermatologists say the worst kind of sun damage occurs when you expose skin after months of covering up and that protection is necessary whatever the shade of your skin. Here's how to stay safe in the sun all year round.

Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm. Use a high-SPF sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection. Build up your sun exposure time gradually. Apply sunscreen liberally every one or two hours and immediately after swimming. When applying sunscreen, pay particular attention to the nose, cheeks, forehead, backs of ears, neck and shoulders, as they are first to catch the sun. Wear a sun hat if you're out in the hot, midday sun. Wear UVA/UVB protection sunglasses. Never expose babies less than six months old to direct sunlight and take extra care with children. At the first sign of burning, get out of the sun immediately.
In the past few years, most suncare products have been reformulated to give protection against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the skin, contributing to premature skin ageing by up to 90 per cent, while UVB rays stop at the skin's surface, causing burning and adding to the risk of skin cancer. Pale skin suffers more UVB damage than dark skin, so is most at risk from sunburn and premature skin ageing. Mediterranean, dark brown and black skins can usually tolerate more sun, but ageing UVA rays are still able to penetrate and cause damage.
To help you choose the right level of protection for your skin, first select a product for its SPF (Sun Protection Factor). This relates to your skin's natural protection time. So, if you can usually stay in the sun for up to 10 minutes without burning, an SPF 15 will keep your skin protected 15 times longer (15 x 10 = 150 minutes / two-and-a-half hours) than if you used no sun protection. The higher a product's SPF, the more defence it offers against burning UVB rays. The protection a sunscreen gives you from damaging UVA rays is indicated on the bottle using a star rating system - one or no stars indicates minimal protection up to four stars for maximum protection.
Dermatologists say that most people don't use enough sun protection cream and that if you apply it too thinly, you can lose about half its SPF value. On average, one generous shot-glassful should be enough to protect your whole body. Also, don't rub too hard: most of the cream should rest on the skin's surface to protect it, and if you rub it in too vigorously you could reduce the sunscreen's potency by around 25 per cent.
Myth and legends: Sunscreen stops me from developing a tan. Fact: High factor sunscreen will allow you to develop a light golden glow gradually with less risk of burning and premature ageing. Myth: I only need high protection against sunburn in hot countries. Fact: The closer to the equator you are, the higher the Sun Protection Factor you need, but if you burn easily you always need at least SPF 20, even in the UK. Myth: A sunblock will ensure I don't burn at all. Fact: There is no such thing as a total sunblock. The higher the SPF the higher the protection, but you still need to take care and stay in the shade as much as possible. Myth: If my skin starts to redden, I can stop further sunburn by re-applying sun products. Fact: Unfortunately once your skin is on the brink of burning, further application of a sunscreen followed by more sun exposure causes more damage, so get out of the sun immediately.

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