Are you suffering with sunburn? Norfolk doctor gives her advice

Woman applying sunblock protection on shoulders

You should ensure that you apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, and top it up every two hours while you're outside - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Many of us will have been out enjoying the sunshine recently. But when you're enjoying a carefree day at the beach or in the park, it's easy to forget about protecting your skin from the sun's harmful rays. We find out why sunscreen is so important - and how to treat sunburn. 

The busy Brancaster beach which causes traffic problems in the town. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Many of us have been making the most of the sunshine at the region's beaches during the last two weeks - Credit: denise Bradley

Dr Ava Lee  is a consultant dermatologist at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and one of her specialist interests is skin cancer and advanced dermatological surgery.

She explains it's important that we protect our skin from the sun not just in the summer, but all year round.

"The sun emits UV rays of radiation of varying wavelengths with UVA and UVB being most recognised," says Dr Lee. 

"UVB rays affect the outer part of the skin, meaning that with prolonged exposure it can lead to skin redness and sunburn.

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"UVA rays penetrate the skin more and prolonged exposure can result in premature ageing of the skin, such as fine lines, wrinkles and pigmentation.

"Those who have darker skin tones may not notice fine lines and wrinkles much but would certainly notice more pigmentation, therefore sunscreen can be for any skin tone and type.

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"UV rays can result in irreversible damage, so prevention is always better through the use of sunscreen protection. And both UVA and UVB exposure can increase the risk of skin cancer.

"It has become more evident that 80% of UV rays can still penetrate through clouds," continues Dr Lee.

"In the UK, UVB rays are not around much during the winter months, however UVA rays still exist, hence reason for wearing UV protection all year round. UVA can also penetrate through glass, which is something to think about when you're driving or sitting next to a sunny window."

UV radiation is not temperature related and you cannot feel it or see it. So just because it's cold outside does not mean that sun protection is not required as there are still UV rays present.

When it comes to protecting our skin, Dr Lee says that physical sun protection with clothing that covers as much of the skin as possible, a wide brimmed hat and keeping in the shade as much as you can are best.

"For sunscreen products, I would suggest two different sunscreens for the face and the rest of the body," says Dr Lee. 

"Sunscreens for the face are lighter formulations and more tolerable too. You should apply sunscreen after your moisturiser. And apply make-up on top if desired.

"Don't forget UV radiation can affect the eyes, therefore you need a good pair of sunglasses that has a European CE mark and with a high EPF for best protection.  

"And lip balms with SPF protection also exists as high as SPF 30," she says.

SPF - or sun protection factor - is the marker of the level of protection from the UVB the sunscreen provides.

"The higher the number the better the protection and a minimum of SPF 30 would be most ideal in UK weather," says Dr Lee.

"For protection from UVA, you would look for star ratings in a circle, most suggest a minimum four-star rating."

How often you apply your sun protection and how much of it is important too.

Clare Randall, a clerical assistant at West Earlham Junior School, applies some sun cream.

Sun cream should be applied at least every two hours while you are out in the sun - Credit: Antony Kelly

To make sure that you're fully protected Dr Lee says that you should apply it once, then again 20-30 minutes later just before going out, then at least every two hours.

As a general rule you should apply a generous amount - a quarter teaspoon to the face, half a teaspoon each to the arms, neck and head and a teaspoon each to the legs, front and back of the body.

"Consider SPF in spray form for a convenient top up of sunscreen during the day," says Dr Lee.

Many moisturisers and make-up foundations have SPF in them, but this might not be enough to protect your face. 

"It depends on the person. If you don't see much  sunlight during the year, ie you go to work and leave work in the dark, it might be OK. However one may not put on a generous amount of product to produce the adequate SPF coverage needed - ie, no-one wants to put on too much foundation!  

"Therefore it might be best to invest in a separate SPF sunscreen product to ensure adequate application of this, says Dr Lee.

Women's hands apply cream from burns to skin lesions. Sunburn treatment concept

If you do get sunburn, apply a moisturiser containing aloe vera or soy to soothe it - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Treating sunburn

If you do get sunburn, this is Dr Lee's advice.

Get out of the sun.

Cool the skin (with a cool towel or cool shower, for example) and pat with towel (don't rub).

Apply lightweight moisturiser containing aloe vera or soy. If it's painful, consider ibuprofen or if you're not recommended to take ibuprofen, take paracetamol instead.

Allow time for the skin to heal (about five to seven days). If the skin peels, apply more moisturiser. If it blisters, leave it alone - don't pick or pop it to minimise infection.

Contact your GP if you're still concerned - hydrocortisone cream may be needed if sunburn is too painful.

And don't forget, sun tan lotion has a shelf life - check the packaging on yours - how old is it? If it has a life of 12 months and you opened it three years ago on that holiday in Greece, it will have lost much of its potency. It's time to invest in a new bottle!

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