I was at work yesterday afternoon when my phone beeped with a yellow weather warning. I got all excited at the prospect of a thunderous rainstorm. As we are heading into the driest months of the year, the chance of any rain between now and mid to late October is very slim, so you can imagine my horror when it was actually alerting us to temperatures in the low forties for the next 24 hours.
This is our ninth summer in Cyprus and the extreme temperatures that we get every year (for two weeks last summer it was in the mid-fifties!) never get easier. With that being said, we still go out as much as we have to (for work) and need to (to the beach). We are so incredibly lucky that we have the beach on our doorstep for 6 months of the year and it gives us the much-needed relief from the heat when being stuck indoors becomes too much for us all.
Sun safety was never something that I was aware of or paid much attention to when we lived at home. I think a combination of being young and foolish and thinking there wasn’t much harm in getting sunburnt on the few days sun we had, lead me (and to be fair, probably most Irish people) to be very lax in the sun. Since moving to Cyprus and particularly since having Alex, I’ve become fastidious about sun safety and the correct application of sun cream. We rarely spend a full day in the sun because a) it’s just too hot and b) we just aren’t able for it. We tend to go first thing in the morning or late afternoon and spend a few hours at the beach and this works really well for us. I’ve put together some of our sun safety tips for those that may be going away this summer, live in the sun or are just expecting some great weather at home!
Check the UV Index
Before getting ready to head out in the sun, the first thing we do is check the UV Index. Whilst it was something that I had heard of, I didn’t fully understand the implications of it until we moved to Cyprus.
If you don’t know, the UV Index measures the level of UV radiation at any given point of the day. The scale starts at 0 and runs to 11+ and the higher the number, the more at risk you are from harmful UV rays. Ideally, we need to stay indoors, in the shade or be very well protected when the UV Index is reading 3 and upwards and the higher the reading, the less time you spend outdoors. UV rays are harmful to us throughout the year as they penetrate the clouds and so we need to check the index every day, regardless of how sunny it is.
Checking the UV Index is easy. The majority of us have smartphones with a weather app already installed on the phone. If you don’t, I recommend the Accuweather app. It is the one I use and gives you loads of information, including the UV Index. If you want to check on a computer or tablet, I really like sunburnmap. It has the great feature of advising you how long you can spend in the sun dependent on whether you use SPF, your skin type and the kind of protection you are using.
I think it’s fair to assume we all use sun cream, but the question is, are we using it correctly? When picking a sun cream, you need to ensure not only are you using a high factor (30 is a good place to start), but that the cream has a high rating for UVA/UVB rays too.
Don’t know what UVA/UVB rays are? Here is why they are important:
The American Academy of Dermatology recommends that we use 1 shot glass worth of cream to cover the entire body. They suggest that 25-50% of us are not applying enough sun cream and we are not reapplying it correctly. Skin cancer rates are increasing rapidly throughout the world and we need to learn how to be safe in the sun to prevent the rates rising even further. With this in mind, remember these important points when you are in the sun:
- Apply sun cream 15 minutes BEFORE you go out in the sun
- Ensure you use at least one shot glass of cream to cover your entire body
- Use a lip balm with an SPF to prevent your lips from getting burnt – they can also develop skin cancer
- Reapply cream every 2 hours, after you have been in the water or have been sweating
- Sun cream can expire. Once opened, a bottle usually expires after 12 months. Don’t use cream from last year
- Keep children under 6 months out of the sun and in the shade. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends avoiding the use of sun cream in children under 6 months if this is possible.
Sunglasses are Vital
When our eyes are exposed to too many UV rays, we not only increase our risk of cancer of the eye, but we increase our risk of diseases such as cataracts and growth on the eye. Whilst eye cancers and cataracts may take years to develop, every time we are in the sun and our eyes are unprotected (particularly during the midday sun) we are causing more damage. The use of hats and sunglasses from a young age is considered to be good sun safety. Just like we protect the skin of small children by hiding in the shade and using high SPF, we must use hats and sunglasses religiously too.
UV rays can cause damage at any time of the year, regardless of whether there are clouds in the skin, so make sure to wear sunglasses with UV blocking lenses and wide-brimmed hats to ensure that we give our eyes the best protection possible.
Whilst the lure of the sun on our skin can make us feel like we need to strip off, head to the local park or beach and spend as much time as possible in the sun, the reality is that this really isn’t good for us. If you want to, or need to, be out in the sun during the hottest part of the day (10 am to 4 pm) then a well-shaded area can give you approx 75% protection from UV rays. However, don’t forget that the rays can bounce off surfaces such as snow, water, sand and concrete and can be dissipated through the clouds, so just because you are not in the direct line of the sun doesn’t mean you are protected in the shade.
Protecting ourselves from UV rays has become so much easier than it was before due to the ability to purchase tents, sun shades, umbrellas and canopies with UV protectant in them. When you are putting up shade outside your house or on the beach, it is important to look for ones that are UV resistant to ensure that you are protecting your skin in the best way possible.
Clothing is Important Too!
Even though the rate of skin cancer is increasing, year on year, we are lucky enough to live in an age when there are always new technological advances. Protecting ourselves against the harmful rays of the sun can seem like a lot of trouble to go to but making simple changes around what kind of clothes you purchase and wear during the day when there is a high UV Index, coupled with seeking shade when appropriate and the use of sun cream with a high UVA/UVB rating will give you and your family the best protection possible.
When getting dressed to go out into the sun (or a cloudy day with a high rating on the UV Index), keep in mind that dark coloured clothes, linen, cotton and hemp are ideal for helping to protect you from the harmful rays. If you are heading to the beach or swimming pool, clothes with UltraViolet Protection Factor or UVF are a great option. You still need to adhere to applying sunscreen and seeking out shade but these clothes offer even more protection – especially for children who love the water and don’t like sitting still for their cream to be applied. Cancer.ie quote the following statistics regarding the level of protection given by UVF clothing:
Here are the UPF ratings for clothes:
- UPF 15-24: Blocks 93.3-95% UV radiation.
- UPF 25-39: Blocks 96-97.4% UV radiation.
- 40 and over: Blocks 97.5% or more UV radiation.
Source: Standards Australia 1996
Clothes that are threadbare, stretched too tight or wet are not as effective at protecting us against UV rays. It may be a good time to go through your summer wardrobe and remove anything that doesn’t fit well or is very old. Make sure to keep spare clothes in the car for the beach or in case you get wet to ensure that you have something dry to put on once you are finished swimming.