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Safety in the sun

It is important to understand what precautions and procedures should be taken to avoid skin damage and overexposure to the sun.

Safety in the sun
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Overexposure to sunlight may lead to sunburn, premature aging, skin cancer, and damage to the eyes. Tanning, once fashionable, is now considered to be harmful.

Damaging effects of sun

Exposure to strong sunlight without adequate protection can result in sunburn. Skin damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) light, of which there are two main types: UVA light and UVB light. Over-exposure to UVB light is known to cause skin cancer and cataracts. UVA light may also play a part in these conditions. In addition, repeated exposure to UV light can damage fibres called elastin in the skin, leading to premature aging.

Certain drugs, such as tetracycline antibiotics, may make the skin more sensitive to sunlight (see Photosensitivity). Oral contraceptives may cause areas of patchy skin pigmentation after exposure to the sun. Some perfumes and deodorants may cause skin discoloration in strong sunlight.

In the UK, skin cancer is the second most common form of cancer, with over 70,000 new cases each year. The most dangerous form is malignant melanoma, which causes about 1,700 deaths a year. The risk of skin cancer is greater if you had severe sunburn as a child, or if you have red or blond hair and green or blue eyes. Even if you have never had severe sunburn, exposure to the sun over many years can increase your risk of skin cancer.

Protection from the sun

You can minimize the risk of sun damage by staying out of the sun between 11 am and 3 pm. If you have to be in the sun, there are three main types of protection: clothing, sunscreens, and sunglasses.


Wear a wide-brimmed hat and tightly woven clothing that covers your shoulders and neck. Protective clothing is available for children, such as a “legionnaire's hat” to cover the back of the neck, and swimwear that protects the body from UV light even when wet.


Sunscreens protect the skin by absorbing UV rays (see Sunscreens and sunblocks). Opaque sunblocks block sunlight completely. Sunscreens only partially absorb UV rays, but because they are transparent, they are more acceptable for all-over use.

Sunscreens should be applied liberally 15-30 minutes before you go outside and re-applied every 2 hours. Wear sunscreens even in the shade and on cloudy days. They are not suitable for babies under 6 months old, who should be kept out of direct sun.


Sunglasses should give maximum protection from both UVA and UVB light. Never look at the sun directly, even when wearing sunglasses, or view it through a camera or binoculars, since the light can damage your eyes.

Posted 09.09.2010


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