Sun Safety

Most of us love a bit of sun, it's ace. But overdo it on the rays and you might end up looking like a lobster - or doing some real damage.

The face and neck are the areas most commonly affected by sun damage

The Good

  • When sunlight hits our skin it makes Vitamin D. This is essential for strong bones and teeth.
  • Those of us with eczema or acne often see an improvement from the sunshine.
  • Nothing lifts our mood like a sunny day. Scientists have proven that it's all to do with a part of our brain called the pineal gland and our melatonin levels.
  • We look beautiful. Pale is interesting, but also tanned is sexy.

The Bad

  • Wrinkles. Sunlight ages us more than anything else. Our skin contains proteins called collagen and elastin, both of which are damaged by sunlight, even after only 2-3 minutes outside. Once damaged, they can't keep our skin supple. It gets thin, lax and wrinkly.
  • Skin cancer. The more sunlight we expose our skin to, the more we put ourselves at risk. Our chances are worse if we're fair skinned, burn often or spend too long in the sun.

The Ugly

  • Sunburn. Oh, the agony. This is when the top layers of skin cells are damaged by UV rays, causing them to release chemicals that make blood vessels swell and leak fluids. This is especially harmful in young people. If it's too late and you're glowing like a nuclear reactor, reach for the calamine lotion or aftersun. Drink lots of water, swallow a paracetamol and banish yourself to the shade. Learn your lesson and make sure you protect yourself next time.

What is a tan?

Sunlight is a weapon of mass destruction. To protect itself, our skin colours itself brown in an attempt to filter out the harmful rays. The tan is our best defence strategy.

What about sunbeds?

They're not safer than the real thing and the same rules apply: ageing, cancer, sunburn. In fact, many sunbeds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday Mediterranean sun. Using them frequency exposes you to skin cancer. It's also illegal for people under 18 to use sunbeds.

What to do

  • Seek shade between 11am and 3pm.
  • Sport a hat with a brim and shades. The face and neck are the areas most commonly affected by sun damage.
  • Slap on the sun protection. The paler your skin the higher the Sun Protection Factor (SPF). Nothing under a factor 10. Freckles or red hair? Think 20+
  • Choose sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB (the two main types of damaging sunlight). Reapply regularly, especially after swimming.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid overheating.
  • Watch those moles. If any change, itch, bleed or spread, get them checked by a doctor.
  • Fake it. Gone are the days when having a fake tan meant looking like a zebra. There are so many options out there for a year-round tan. Exfoliate, then slap it on.

BBC Advice factfiles are here to help young people with a broad range of issues. They're based on advice from medical professionals, government bodies, charities and other relevant groups. Follow the links for more advice from these organisations.


Related Factfiles

Related Links

More on Health & Wellbeing