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The GO Outdoors Guide To Sun Protection

Tanning is a natural response created by our bodies to warn us of the dangers of being in the sun. 

When our faces of bodies are exposed to UV rays produced by the sun, or by tanning beds, it naturally produces a pigment called melanin, which darkens the skin. This is designed to both warn us that the sun is potentially damaging our skin, and a natural response that attempts protect the skin from UV penetration. Melanin also colours the hair and skin. 

Tanning via the sun or artificial UV rays (such as sunbeds) can encourage the body to produce melanin. However this can have a negative effect on skin. 

UV rays are dangerous and have been linked to cancers, accelerated aging of the skin, such as wrinkles, and other negative effects that means it is a sensible idea to cover up. 

There are two main ways of protecting yourself, via a sunscreen, with an SPF rating usually from 10-60, or by using a sunblock, which has 100% SPF, blocking all UV rays.


Sunscreen - An SPF Rated Filter On The Sun's Level Of Exposure

Sunscreen acts as a filter to UV rays, allowing some to enter and penetrate the skin. Sunscreen allows your skin to brown slightly, which is why most people prefer sunscreen as opposed to a block.

 The level of protection is classed by an SPF rating (Sun Protection Factor) which is indicated on the sunscreen. 

This is used so you can calculate the amount of rays that will make contact with your skin. The higher the SPF, the less exposure to rays you will receive, and the more protection you have. The lower the SPF, the lower the protection. 


Sunblock - A Total Cover Up and Barrier Against The Sun

Sunblock works by blocking 100% of harmful UV rays and is created in a thick, paste like texture, usually using zinc oxide as the main active ingredient. Sunblock is essential for children, and people with very fair complexions who have skin sensitivity. 

Many athletes use thick layers of sunblock on their faces when competitions or events prevent them from reapplying as regularly as required. This is also seen in cricket players who wear thick stripes of sunblock like war paint across their cheeks!

 Sunblock works to blocks all UV rays, UVA, UVB and UVC, for complete protection. This means that a chance of tanning is unlikely to occur using a sunblock, but you will also not burn, and will need to apply less frequently that a sunscreen.

 Due to it’s consistency it can be hard to spread, so sun block is usually reserved for areas that are susceptible to burning quickly, such as the ears, nose and lips, however children, particularly those with fair hair or red hair should wear a sunblock when possible. 


SPF - Sun Protection Factor - What To Choose

SPF Stands for Sun Protection Factor and the levels of this indicate the levels of coverage, above your own natural protection that is offered. 

Simply, and SPF of 15 offers 15 times the protection that your skin would usually allow you to have, without burning when unprotected. 

Generally the higher the SPF, the more protection, although how often, and how well you apply your sun protection lotion will offer the most protection. 

How To Apply Sunscreen and What Type Of Sunscreen To Choose

Apply suncreen onto clean skin free from sand or dirt and aim for many thin layers of coverage, so you do not miss any areas. Apply suncreen after contact with water, or when your skin feels hot or tener. Sunscreen will need to be applied if you are sweating.

Cancer Research UK reccommend that you use around two teaspoon amounts of sunscreen in each application when you cover your head, arms and neck and two tablespoon amounts for your body. 
Typically sunscreens are transported: 
  • In a tube - best for active pursuits/small spaces to store sunscreen
  • In a spray - best for bodies, can go on clear, making it hard to indicate coverage, but allowing you to avoid time rubbing it in
  • Creams/Lotions - ideal for paler skins, these have to be applied thoroughly, and allow you to see your coverage
  • Balms - Typically used for the lips, particularly important when skiing, to prevent wind chaffing, and for people susceptible to coldsores. 
Balms are used for the lips, whereas tubes and sprays are typically used for the body. Small sticks or tubes are often used in active pursuits, and for skiing where you are subjected to a large percentage of the sun's rays, a tube is easily transported and can be used on the move. 

UV Rays - Ultra Violet Rays - What's The Damage?

UV Stands for Ultra Violet, and these are invisible rays that have negative effects on humans, known as UVA, UVC and UVB. 

All UV rays have the ability to damage collagen fibres in the skin, meaning that the ageing process is accelerated. 

UV can also harm your DNA, Vitamin A stores , as well as encouraging cancer growth, so the less exposure you have to UV rays, the better. 

 Of all the UV rays, UVA has previously been seen as the least harmful, as it does not cause visible sunburn as UVB and UVC do.

 However new research has suggested that UVA rays are capable of increasing the risk of melanoma, a type of severe skin cancer developing.  

Your sunscreen should make an attempt to filter the impact of as many UV rays as possible.

Again, the higher the SPF, the better the protection. A 100% SPF factor indicates that a product protects you from all three, UVA, UVB and UVC rays.

Measuring The Effectiveness Of Sun Protection- The Star Rating System

  • A star logo system is used in the UK to grade the levels of protection that sunscreen offers, with 5 stars offering the highest protection levels.
  •  However, this measures based on the SPF first, so the highest star rating within a 10 SPF, or the highest rating within a 25 SPF. 
  • Generally, the higher the SPF, the better the protection, but if you have decided to choose a lower SPF sunscreen, look for a higher level of stars.