This week (3rd – 9th May) is Sun Awareness Week, a campaign launched and led by the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) as part of their annual sun awareness campaign which runs from April to September.
The campaign is made up of two parts; prevention from burning in the sun and the dangers of excessive tanning and early detection and spotting the warning signs of skin cancer, which is the theme for this years campaign.
Sun exposure and using the right sun cream has always been of a concern to those with vitiligo because our skin burns easily due to lack of pigment in our skin. Questions that are commonly raised amongst the community are mostly around sun cream recommendations and why it is such an essential part of our skin care routine, all year round. There is a lot of information available through various sources on the dangers of excessive sun tanning, however, sometimes this can be overlooked, so I thought i’d simplify exactly what you need to know:
What is SPF?
SPF stands for sun protection factor. It is the number on a bottle of sun cream that indicates the level of protection it gives you against the sun’s UV rays.
UVA vs. UVB – what’s the difference?
Sunlight contains ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which consists of different types of rays. The types of UV radiation you’re probably most familiar with are UVA and UVB rays. These rays can affect your skin in different ways.
UVA is more penetrative on the skin because it has longer wavelengths and can affect the deeper layers of the skin, causing ageing skin and wrinkles. UVA rays go deeper than the top later of skin, reaching the epidermis and the dermis.
UVB has shorter wavelengths and can damage the outermost layer of the skin and can cause the skin to burn and redden if exposed excessively, potentially leading to skin cancer.
Why choose an SPF of 50 over factor 15?
Often the SPF is the first thing you’ll notice on a bottle of sun cream, as it’s the most important when making a purchase. Those with vitiligo are strongly advised to use an SPF of 50 or above as this strongly limits your chances of getting burnt when used correctly and reapplied throughout the day. But what does this mean?
If you are someone that is prone to burning after 10 minutes, then a factor as low as 15 means you are likely to burn after 150 minutes (15 times longer) in the sun compared to an SPF of 50 which would cause burning after 500 minutes. An SPF of 50 blocks around 98% of the sun’s rays. Irrespective of this, it is important that you reapply sun cream throughout the day to maximise protecting your skin. The job of sun cream is to protect the three layers of the skin – the epidermis, dermis and the hypodermics.
In addition to applying sun cream, there are a number of other ways that you can protect your skin in the sun:
- The sun is at it’s strongest between 11am and 3pm so where possible seek shade to avoid to much exposure during this time. Always keep babies and young children in the shade as much as possible.
- Ensure that you reapply sunscreen throughout the day – applying once simply isn’t enough. If you are going to be in the sun for long periods where the risk is high that you might burn, apply at lest twice a day or every 2 hours.
- If you are planning to swim, use a water resistant sun cream, especially as UV rays reflect off of water, increasing your exposure.
- Wear protective and loose clothing – a hat to protect your scalp, shades to protect your eyes and long sleeved tops and trousers. Close weave fabrics are a great option as they act as a barrier to sunlight.
- Apply sun cream at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to the sun. This leaves time for the cream to penetrate the skin and settle ensuring that you are protected by the time you are in the sun.
- Drink plenty of water to ensure you stay hydrated. The average daily intake of water is between 1.5 – 2.5 litres a day, however, to avoid the risk of dehydration and headaches for some, this intake needs to be increased considerably.
For more information on Sun Awareness week and protecting yourself in the sun:
Brands that offer high SPF sun creams and have been recommended by Dermatologists: