Sensible exposure to the sun is healthy for us, but it’s important to protect our skin from the damaging effects of its ultraviolet rays.
What are the health benefits of the sun?
The sun helps our bodies make vitamin D, which helps us absorb calcium and phosphate from food. These minerals promote healthy bones, teeth and muscles. Too little vitamin D can cause aches and pains, while severe deficiency can soften the bones.
What are the health risks of the sun?
Too much sun causes sunburn. Not only is this very painful but it also increases the risk of skin cancer later in life. Pale skin burns more quickly than darker skin. This is because pale skin contains less melanin, the pigment that helps protect us from the harmful effects of the sun.
Years of sun exposure can damage the skin, leading to rough or scaly patches of skin known as solar keratoses. These aren't usually a problem, and may clear up on their own, but sometimes they can turn into skin cancer, so it’s important to have them checked regularly by your Doctor.
Too much UV light can also damage the light-sensitive cells at the back of our eyes. Always wear sunglasses that offer UV protection, and never look directly at the sun.
Over time, an excess of UV light damages the skin. Skin damaged by UV light becomes wrinkled and leathery before its time. Repeated sun exposure can also cause blemishes called age spots, or 'liver spots’. These are small areas of pigmentation that are usually found on the face, hands and arms.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke
These occur when the body overheats. Heat exhaustion can lead to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, feeling sick, cramps and a high temperature. It usually improves when you cool down. If you think you have signs of heat exhaustion, move to a cool place, take a cool bath or shower if possible, and drink plenty of water.
Heat stroke is extremely serious and should be treated as an emergency. It can result in fits (seizures) and unconsciousness.
If someone begins having fits, or is unresponsive or unconscious, call 999 immediately. When going abroad, always note the country's emergency services number before travelling.
Sun safety advice
• Stay in the shade and cover up with loose-fitting clothing at the hottest times of the day
• Use sun cream with a minimum sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 or SPF 30 if you have fair skin
• Use sun cream with a high SPF (at least 30) for babies and young children, as their skin contains less melanin, they’re more prone to sunburn
• Wear sunglasses that provide UV protection
• Protect against heat stroke and heat exhaustion by avoiding strenuous exercise, always drink plenty of water and taking cool baths or showers
• Stay out of the sun between 11am-3pm
• Always wear sun cream, sunglasses and a sun hat
• Drink plenty of water in hot weather