Life & Culture

Dying for a tan?


We may be more educated than ever but stats prove that we are still ignoring everything we know about sun protection.

According to dermatologist and suncare expert, Dr Sam Bunting, most people rack up to 14 hours of casual UV exposure per week. This is considered unintentional tanning, so when you put your hardcore sun lounging into the equation, the figure increases dramatically.

Tanning can be addictive; when you're sporting a golden, healthy glow you feel better, look better and people respond to a tan too. Comments such as "you've got great colour" and "you look so well" are the norm. However, this can lead to dangerous skincare and tanning habits. A tan is our skin's response to an injury. Tanning occurs when the sun's rays penetrate into the skin's deeper layers, causing the skin to produce more pigment. Every time you tan, you accumulate damage to your skin.

Unfortunately, your skin doesn't forget, it remembers every hour of sun (even back to those teenage days of baking yourself with oil) and "clocks" those up over time. I hold my hands up to bad sunbathing habits, an obsession with Hawaiian Tropic Carrot Gel, an annual competition amongst myself and my brother (who is significantly naturally darker than me) about which one of us can stay in the sun for longer and of course the big tanning test; comparing strap marks with my fellow sunnies. I've done it all and not proud of it either.

There is a false sense of security that with sun protection exposure is safe. Even lying under a parasol will not block out 100 per cent of the sun's rays. The sun's reflective powers mean that there is 17 per cent reflection on beach sand and 20 per cent on water.

How much is enough?

Any exposed skin should have sunscreen applied to it. As a rule of thumb, one-shot glass is the amount needed to cover all exposed areas in normal summer clothing.

When you're actively sunbathing or out in the sun, wearing little clothing, Boots UK suncare expert, Clare O'Connor says you should apply three tablespoons of sun cream for your entire body. The recommended amount is 2mg per square centimetre of skin which in simplistic terms is 3ml for each sub-area of your body. (A blob the size of a £2 coin is about 3mls).

Our body is made up of 11 sub-areas each of which have the same surface area. These are: each arm and hand, each upper leg, each lower leg, upper chest, lower chest, upper back, lower back, head and neck.

In a hot climate, wearing only swimwear, sunscreen needs to be applied everywhere at least 30 minutes before sun exposure and re-applied again every two hours. This may seem like a huge task, especially on your holiday, but it will make a significant difference to your skin, now and in the future (and save you money on expensive anti-agers too).

Hit the bottle

It's rather tempting to use last year's bottle of half-used sunscreen again (especially with the hefty price tags), but like other skincare products, it too has a shelf life. Always look for an expiration date. If you can't find one, write the date of purchase on the bottle.

Discard sunscreen that has been lurking in your bathroom cabinet for more than three years or been exposed to high temperatures or has obvious changes in colour and consistency.

Adults can safely use children's sun protection products. But this is not the case vice versa. You have to be more careful with applying adult sunscreen on children because their skin is more sensitive.

Sunscreens should not be applied to babies under six months so they should not have even the smallest amount of direct sunexposure.

Sun-fighting super foods

Increase your skin's self-defense inside out by eating these:

● Red peppers, tomatoes, watermelon- (containing carotenoids and lycopene)
● Sweet Potatoes, carrots, pumpkins, apricots (orange-coloured carotenoids)
● Leafy vegetables, kale, spinach and spring greens (Xanthophylls and carotenoids)

Be sun savvy

● Avoid the midday sun
● Remember, there is as much UVA in the winter as in the summer
● Protect children from an early age. Much of the damage is done before you hit 20.
● Don't burn. One burn doubles your risk of melanoma
● Protect from UV reflection from sand, water, snow and ice. Ninety per cent bounces back
● Be aware that a fake tan does not protect your skin when you go out.

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