Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun

Our health editor, Patsy Westcott, checks out the latest advice on how to get enough sun for your vitamin D needs while still caring for your skin

Blame Coco Chanel. Back in 1929 she declared ‘A golden tan is the index of chic’. Cue a rush to bronze that, despite public health warnings, persists to this day. Admittedly it was simpler back when, blithely unaware of wrinkles or skin cancer, we would don something skimpy, slather ourselves in sun oil, and merrily roast in the midday rays.

The high cost of a tan

In today’s less innocent times we know sun damage is the main culprit in skin ageing. Hello wrinkles, patchy pigment, age spots and rough skin. And you would have to have lived under a stone for the past few decades not to know that UV radiation causes skin cancer. Even without sun exposure, skin gets thinner and less elastic with the passing years and the number of melanin-forming cells – aka melanocytes – responsible for tanning, also takes a nosedive leaving skin more vulnerable to UV damage and less likely to tan.

On the other hand…

As the chief source of vitamin D, vital for healthy bones and muscles as we get older, sun is not all bad. So what’s a girl to do? According to NICE – the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – a short daily burst of sun with forearms, hands and lower legs uncovered provides most of us with our vitamin D quota. You need a bit longer if you’re darker skinned. In real terms that means a ten to 15 minute walk on the sunny side

The expert view

Dermatologist Dr Walayat Hussain, of Leeds Spire Hospital, one of the most widely published dermatological surgeons in the UK, insists that there’s no such thing as a safe tan. ‘It’s important not to use vitamin D as an excuse to sunbathe. You can enjoy the sun but know your skin type and behave accordingly. You should never go pink, red or burn,’ says Dr Hussain. ‘If you’ve got fair skin the risk of skin cancer outweighs the benefits in terms of vitamin D. And once you’ve reached your own personal threshold for vitamin D manufacture you don’t get more by staying longer in the sun.’

Getting that all-important vitamin D

To get your vitamin D quota, be sensible in the sun and eat plenty of vitamin-D rich foods – think oily fish, meat, egg yolks, wild mushrooms and fortified products such as breakfast cereals and spreads. Recommendations from SACN - the government’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition – on how much vitamin D we should consume a day, are currently being updated??, so watch this space. Meanwhile here’s how to make the most of those lazy, hazy, sunny days of summer…

Six tips for summer skin care

  • Say no to sunbeds – To get summer ready exfoliate, moisturise, depilate and if you still can’t be persuaded that pale equals interesting, check out the latest fake tans Visit metoffice.gov.uk – If the UV Index is 3 or more take steps to protect yourself – seek shade and cover up with closely woven clothes plus a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Watch the clock – The sun is strongest between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at this time of year so (apart from the advice above) stay out of it.
  • Know your skin – You can check your skin type at cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/am-i-at-risk-of-sunburn
  • Slap on the suncream – Apply six to eight teaspoons of a sunscreen offering UVA protection and at least SPF15, 30 minutes before going out and again just before heading outdoors if the sun is strong enough to burn.
  • Cover up – Be sure to cover all exposed skin, your face, neck, upper feet ears, and head, if you’re going bareheaded and you don’t have thick hair. Reapply regularly especially after swimming or perspiring. And never use sunscreen to increase the amount of time you can spend in the sun.

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Pale and Interesting

OnlyMe1 30/06/2016

As an auburn haired, freckled and pale skin woman I have burned many times over the years, laid out all day long, using baby oil to deepen that tan. As I've got older I've realised that having a tan isn't the be all and end all, I don't care. I see women my age (56) looking 20 years older because they still use sun beds and want to be tanned all year round, what is the point? Then the fashion for false tanning, it looks false, don't do it!

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