Sun protection is important since its effects may be more damaging than we think.
The Sun is the star closest to the Earth. That’s why we know so much about it. We also know that it is thanks to the sun that all the plants and animals on our planet, and even we ourselves, are alive. In fact, the sun is so important that it conditions our lives to the extent of telling us when to get up and when to go to bed.
Of course, it goes without saying that its effect on our bodies is highly beneficial. It stimulates the production of vitamin D, which is essential for developing bones, it benefits many of our vital body functions and it even stimulates the brain (and our spirit: «it’s good for the soul»).
However, we have to be careful because not everything is that good. In summer we usually go to the beach and sunbathe, and in winter when we go skiing we also notice something special about the sun. Its effects can be more harmful than we think.
Why do I go brown?
In summer, during the holidays, there’s always a rush to find a place for your towel on the beach or for your deckchair by the swimming-pool. Outdoor activities are the ones we like most but you have to be very careful because, even if you’re just playing bat-and-ball, the sun’s rays are still beaming down on you, and gradually reaching your skin without you realising it.
As nature is wiser than we give her credit for, the skin has its own defence mechanism which is, in fact, responsible for the skin going brown. The sun reaches the skin and the outermost part of the skin, the epidermis, thickens in order to protect you from the harmful effects of the radiation. In addition, the cutaneous cells (skin cells) produce more melanin, a substance which protects you from the sun and at the same time has the property of «giving you some colour».
With my skintype, will I get burnt?
If we look at passers-by in the street, we see that they’re all different: there are short ones, tall ones, thin ones and fat ones, and each one of them also has a different coloured skin. This means that we cannot all stay in the sun for the same length of time. The sun will not affect you the same if your skin is brown as if it’s very pale.
To show you just how much the sun can affect you, the following table classifies each skintype. Have you found which one is yours?
Reaction to sun
Very fair skin, blue eyes, freckles, fair hair
Intense redness and peeling. We don’t go brown, our skin turns red.
Fair skin, light-coloured eyes, fair or red hair
Redness and peeling.
Pale skin, brown eyes and hair
Moderate redness, mild pigmentation.
Brown skin, dark eyes and hair
Slight redness, easy pigmentation.
No redness, intense pigmentation.
Young children have very fine, delicate skin, so extreme precaution must be taken with them. To find out if the sun’s rays are too intense, follow the rule of the shadow. If your shadow is shorter than you, the sun’s rays are at their most intense.
How should we sunbathe?
The best way not to get sunburn is to sunbathe carefully, so you have to know:
How to use suncream correctly:
- Its use is essential, and it must have a protection factor of 30 or higher.
- Apply it 30 minutes before exposure to the sun and reapply it every 2 or 3 hours.
- When you come out of the water you must reapply your suncream.
- Protect your lips with special lip balms.
Other important points for avoiding health problems are:
- Do not sunbathe between 12 noon and 4 in the afternoon, as this is when the sun’s rays are at their strongest.
- Wear a T-shirt and hat or cap as protection when you are not in the water.
- You should protect your eyes too, with proper UV-filter sunglasses.
- Start sunbathing gradually: 20 minutes the first day, 30 the second and 50 after the third.
Above all, though, you must remember that any precaution will always be insufficient when it comes to protecting you from the sun.
When we buy a suncream, one of the things to bear in mind, apart from its protection factor, is its resistance to water and perspiration. There are two different types of suncreams:
- Water-resistant: this type of cream or lotion will remain active for up to 40 minutes once it has come into contact with water.
- Waterproof: this type is more resistant and can remain active for more than 80 minutes once it has come into contact with water.
I’m already sunburnt, what should I do?
As we said, sunburn affects people in different ways, depending on their skintype. When we’ve been in the sun too long our skin goes red, becomes inflamed and hurts. Also, it may start to blister and fall off, which is when we «peel«.
When you feel your skin starting to itch, the first thing to do is to move out of the direct sunlight. It’s a good idea to moisturise it (give it water, because it’s very dry). In this sense, moisturising creams are especially good. If you don’t have any, you can drape cloths soaked in cold water or water and vinegar over the burnt area.
Some final suggestions for sun protection
If you bear in mind everything that we’ve explained here, and also take into account the following bits of advice, you shouldn’t have any problems next time you go to the beach.
- Avoid perfumes and alcohol-based colognes that contain vegetal essences, because they make the skin more sensitive to light.
- Pick the suncream most suited to your skintype (minimum factor 15).
- Use suncream even if it’s not sunny.
- Drink plenty of water and other liquids to avoid getting dehydrated.
- Keep moving, don’t stop. It’s not advisable to lie down and stay in the same position for hours.
- Avoid exposure to the sun at the times when its radiation is most intense.
- To protect your eyes, you should use sunglasses with lenses that absorb the ultraviolet radiation.
- To assess the effect of the creams, the manufacturers test them on the backs of bathers who swim for 20-minute periods.