If you think slathering yourself in sunscreen before a day at the beach is the key to low-risk sunbathing there’s bad news. According to the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) there is “no safe or healthy way to tan.”
The new guidelines advise always wearing sunscreen of SPF15 or higher when outdoors and using six to eight teaspoonfuls of lotion to cover the entire body.
Wearing a high factor of sun protection (SPF30 plus) doesn’t necessarily mean you can spend longer periods in the sun without the risk of burning.
Additionally the NICE guidelines indicate that having a tan doesn’t mean you are protected against subsequent sun exposure and the cumulative skin damage negates any protective effect.
It’s still possible to burn during the hottest part of the day (in the U.K. this is between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. from March to October) even in cool, cloudy weather. It’s also possible to burn at other times of the day and during all seasons.
While sunscreen is an effective way to protect your skin from harmful UV rays, NICE suggests that covering up with suitable clothing or seeking shade should be top priorities. When sunscreen is used it should be used liberally and repeatedly on all exposed areas of skin.
If you go swimming, or sweat profusely while wearing sunscreen, the advice is to reapply your lotion immediately afterwards — even if the product claims to be water-resistant.
If you have fair hair or skin, lots of moles or freckles or a history of skin cancer in your family you should take extra care when out in the sun, as should babies and children.
This week actor Hugh Jackman gave a warning about sun damage when he revealed he has had yet another cancerous growth removed from his nose.
In an Instagram post, Jackman shared a picture of himself with his nose covered in a dressing after having a fifth skin cancer removed, with the caption: “An example of what happens when you don’t wear sunscreen. Basal Cell. The mildest form of cancer but serious, nonetheless.
“PLEASE USE SUNSCREEN and get regular check-ups,” he added.
While prolonged exposure to sunlight has its risks the guidelines also highlight the benefit of short periods in sunlight to maximise vitamin D production, which is essential for healthy bones. According to NICE, most people can make sufficient vitamin D by going outdoors for short periods during the hottest part of the day and leaving only areas of skin that are often exposed uncovered (such as forearms, hands or lower legs).
A short period of time in the sun means only around 10 to 15 minutes and less than the time it takes you to start going red or burn, recommends the NHS website. Exposing yourself for longer is unlikely to provide any additional benefits although people with darker skin will need to spend longer in the sun to produce the same amount of vitamin D.