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The sun and your skin
Soaking up the sun's rays used to be         Protection from the sun
considered healthy... before we learned      Using sun protection will help prevent
about the dangers of ultraviolet rays.       skin damage and reduce the risk of
Sunlight can be used to treat some skin      cancer. Sun protection should always
diseases, but we all need to avoid           start with avoiding peak sun hours and
overexposure to the sun. Too much sun        dressing sensibly. Most clothing absorbs
can cause sunburn, wrinkles, freckles,       or reflects UV rays, but white fabric like
skin texture changes, dilated blood          loose-knit cotton, and wet clothes that
vessels, and skin cancers. It may also       cling to your skin, do not offer much
cause rash problems.                         protection. The tighter the weave, the
                                             more sun protection it will offer. It is
The sun's rays                               recommended that you avoid deliberate
                                             sunbathing, wear a wide-brimmed hat,
The sun produces both visible and
                                             sunglasses, and protective clothing. If you
invisible rays. The invisible rays, known
                                             must be in the sun, use a sunscreen with
as ultraviolet-A (UVA) and ultraviolet-B
                                             a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least
(UVB), cause most of the problems. Both
                                             15, but higher factors such as SPF 50 or
cause suntan, sunburn, and sun damage.
                                             60 are better, even on cloudy days.
There is no "safe" UV light.
                                             Sunscreens work by absorbing, reflecting,
Harmful UV rays are more intense in the
                                             or scattering the sun's rays on the skin.
summer, at higher altitudes, and closer to
                                             They are available in many forms,
the equator. The sun's harmful effects are
                                             including ointments, creams, gels, lotions,
also increased by wind and reflections
                                             sprays, and wax sticks. All are labelled
from water, sand, and snow. Even on
                                             with SPF numbers. The higher the SPF,
cloudy days UV radiation reaches the
                                             the greater the protection from sunburn,
earth and can cause skin damage. The
                                             caused mostly by UVB rays. Some
UV index is a prediction of ultraviolet
                                             sunscreens, called "broad spectrum,"
intensity in a given location. It can be
                                             block out both UVA and UVB rays. These
found in the weather section of most large
                                             do a better job of protecting skin from
daily newspapers and some television
                                             other effects of the sun. However,
weather forecasts.
                                             sunscreens are not perfect.
                                             Sunscreens should be applied about 20
                                             minutes before going outdoors. Even
                                             water-resistant sunscreens should be

The sun and your skin, November 2009
Patient information – The sun and your skin

reapplied about every two hours, after          baths, and soothing lotions may provide
swimming, or after strenuous activities.        some relief.
Beach umbrellas and other kinds of shade        Tanning - A tan is often mistaken as a
are a good idea, but they do not provide full   sign of good health. Dermatologists know
protection because UV rays can still bounce     better. A suntan is actually the result of
off sand, water, and porch decks. Remember,     skin injury. Tanning occurs when UV rays
UV rays are invisible.
                                                enter the skin and it protects itself by
                                                producing more pigment or melanin.
Effects of the sun                              Indoor tanning is just as bad for your skin
Sunburn - Your chances of developing a          as sunlight. Most tanning salons use
sunburn are greatest between 10am and           ultraviolet-A bulbs. Studies have shown
4pm, when the sun's rays are strongest.         that UVA rays go deeper into the skin and
It's easier to burn on a hot day, because       contribute to premature wrinkling and skin
heat increases the effects of UV rays, but      cancer.
you can get burned on overcast days as          Ageing - People who work outdoors or
well.                                           sunbathe without sun protection can
Sun protection is also important in the         develop tough, leathery skin, making
winter. Snow reflects up to 80 percent of       them look older than they are. The sun
the sun's rays, causing sunburn and             can also cause large freckles called "age
damage to uncovered skin. Winter sports         spots," and scaly growths (actinic
in the mountains increase the risk of           keratoses), that may develop into skin
sunburn because there is less                   cancer. These skin changes are caused
atmosphere at high altitudes to block the       by years of sun exposure. Protecting
sun's rays.                                     children from the sun is especially
If skin is exposed to sunlight too long,        important, since most of our lifetime
redness may develop and increase for up         exposure occurs before the age of 20.
to 24 hours. A severe sunburn causes            Wrinkles - Wrinkles are directly related to
skin tenderness, pain, swelling, and            sun exposure. They can be intensified by
blistering. Additional symptoms like fever,     smoking.
chills, upset stomach, and confusion            Skin cancer - More than 90 percent of all
indicate a serious sunburn and require          skin cancers occur on sun-exposed skin.
immediate medical attention. If you             The face, neck, ears, forearms, and
develop a severe sunburn or begin to            hands are the most common places it
develop a fever, your dermatologist may         appears.
suggest medicine to reduce swelling,            The three most common types of skin
pain, and prevent infection.                    cancer are basal cell carcinoma,
Unfortunately, there is no quick cure for       squamous cell carcinoma, and
minor sunburn. Cool, wet compresses,            melanoma.

The sun and your skin, November 2009                                                        2
Patient information – The sun and your skin

Basal cell carcinoma usually develops on      Diseases - Some diseases can be made
the face, ears, nose, and around the          worse by the sun, including cold sores,
mouth of fair-skinned individuals. It can     chickenpox, and a number of less common
start as a red patch or shiny bump that is    disorders such as lupus erythematosus. UV
                                              rays also can cause cataracts, a gradual
pink, red, or white. It may be crusty or
                                              clouding of the lens in the eye.
have an open sore that does not heal, or
heals only temporarily. This type of
cancer can be cured easily if treated         Tips for sun protection
early.                                        − Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with
                                                a SPF of at least 15 on all exposed
Squamous cell carcinoma usually                 skin, including the lips, but higher
appears as a scaly patch or raised, warty       factors such as SPF 50 or 60 are
growth. It also has a high cure rate when       better, even on cloudy days.
found and treated early. In rare cases, if    − If exposed to water, either through
not treated, it can be deadly.                  swimming or sweating, a water-
                                                resistant sunscreen should be used.
Melanoma is the most dangerous form of        − Reapply sunscreen frequently, usually
skin cancer. It usually looks like a dark       every two hours.
brown or black mole-like patch with           − Wear a broad-brimmed hat and
irregular edges. Sometimes it is                sunglasses.
multicoloured with shades of red, blue, or
                                              − Sit in the shade whenever possible.
white. This type of skin cancer can occur
                                              − Wear protective, tightly woven
anywhere on the body and when found
early, can be cured. If ignored, it spreads
throughout the body and can be fatal.         − Plan outdoor activities early or late in
Allergic reactions - Some people develop        the day to avoid peak sunlight hours
allergic reactions to the sun. These            between 10am and 4pm.
reactions may show up after only a short      Everyone should be able to enjoy sunny
time in the sun. Bumps, hives, blister, or    days. By using a little common sense, as
red blotches are the most common              well as these guidelines, you can safely
symptoms of a sun allergy. Sometimes          work and play outdoors without worrying
these reactions are due to cosmetics,         too much about skin cancer or wrinkles.
perfumes, plants, topical medications, or
sun preparations. Certain drugs, including    Please feel free to discuss any questions
birth control pills, antibiotics, blood       or worries you may have with your doctor.
pressure, arthritis, and depression
medications can cause a skin rash with
sun exposure.

The sun and your skin, November 2009                                                       3
Patient information – The sun and your skin

Contact us                                    Department of Dermatology
Department of Dermatology                     Outpatient Department
South Block                                   West Berkshire Community Hospital
Royal Berkshire Hospital                      London Road, Benham Hill
London Road, Reading RG1 5AN                  Thatcham RG18 3AS           

Telephone 0118 322 5111                       Telephone 01635 273417
                                              Fax 01635 273345
Dermatology Secretary
0118 322 7417/ 8975/ 8145                     Dermatology Secretary 01635 273563
                                              (Mon-Wed & Fri)
For minor operations, Ingrid Meda
0118 322 7581
                                              Other Dermatology leaflets are available
                                              on the Trust website:

                                              Department of Dermatology
                                              Written: August 2003, Revised July 2005,
                                              January 2007, January 2008, September 2008,
                                              November 2009
                                              Review due: November 2010

The sun and your skin, November 2009                                                     4

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