Take cover! The sun is shining: how to protect yourself during the summer heat

We know it’s summer, but harmful UV rays will ruin your skin and expose you to serious health problems

The weather at present is perfect for spending time at the beach, enjoying the sunshine. The radiant heat and sun’s rays are a good way to improve mood, energy level, and sense of optimism, as well as being beneficial, since sunshine can also help our bodies process vitamin D, which is important for healthy bones.

However, too much sun exposure can be dangerous. The number of negative effects caused by overexposure to the sun range from the aesthetic, such as burns and wrinkles, to more serious health problems, such as skin cancer and cataracts.

The effects of exposure to the sun can be so severe that the Maltese Association of Dermatology and Venereology (MADV) discourages people from tanning altogether.

“Tanning is the way the skin responds to damage by UV radiation,” its website reads, referring to the radiation which is a component of sunlight. “The skin tries to protect itself from further damage by producing a dark-coloured pigment, melanin, as a shield,” it explains.

The association recommends three measure to be ‘sun sensible’, as it puts it.

The first recommendation is to avoid the sun between 11am and 4pm, because this is when the sun is strongest and can cause the most damage.

MADV advises people to plan their activities according to the time of day. “Stay indoors, or stay in the shade, but remember that UV radiation can be reflected off concrete, sand, water and snow. Therefore, a canopy or an umbrella will not provide complete protection and you might still get burnt.”

A good idea to pass the time in summer while preventing sun damage to the skin would be to lose yourself in a good book in a shady spot, or enjoy lunch with friends and family in a nicely air-conditioned room. Better yet, take this time as an opportunity to relish the local culture and visit museums and art galleries.

If staying indoors in this weather is just not your cup of tea, MADV recommends covering up with appropriate clothes and a hat when going out. “The hat should have a broad brim to protect your ears and as much of your face as possible,” it said. This shouldn’t be a problem for all you fashion-conscious ladies out there, as Fashionisers has called the brimmed hat the number one headwear trend for summer 2016, after the accessory took the runway by storm during the spring 2016 fashion weeks.

“Clothes are best when they have a tight weave. Dark clothes are more protective than light-coloured ones,” MADV continue. This might sound like a damper but a quick look at fashion websites such as Anthropologie and InStyle prove that summer can be bright and beautiful in all colours. Prints seem to be in this season, so look out for those chic maxi dresses and beautiful blouses adorned with flowery and Aztec prints. Be aware, on the other hand, that the fabric is not so thick that it causes overheating. An alternative to this would be to opt for light linen fabrics to allow your body to breathe, and protect your skin with the appropriate skin products. According to Harper’s Bazaar, jumpsuits, dusters and full skirts should be a popular choice at the beach this year.

Regardless of what you end up wearing, MADV recommends that all parts of your body not covered by clothing should be covered with sunscreen. “Sunscreens should not be used to increase the time spent in the sun,” it emphasises, however.

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US recommends sunscreen with a sun protective factor (SPF) of 15 or higher. You should also apply it regularly, it says, as sunscreen wears off after about two hours in the sun or after a dip, or even by simply sweating and casually wiping it off your skin. The CDC also warns to take care of the sunscreen you own. Sunscreen has an expiration date, after which it will not be very effective in protecting your skin.

Sunscreen without an expiration date normally has a shelf life of no more than three years, the CDC says. However, shelf life is cut short if the sunscreen has been exposed to high temperatures.

With all this talk about skincare, let’s not forget about our lips. Lips often get overlooked when it comes to skincare, but their lack of the natural sebaceous glands means that they need extra care to remain moist. The high temperatures, stronger UV rays, and swift transitions from the heat to air conditioning can lead your lips to become dry and chapped.

The simplest solution is to keep a stick of lip balm on you – and use it. Lip balm serves two purposes, to protect the lips from harmful UV rays and to moisturise them, thereby preventing dehydration and chapping. Ideally, you should look out for lip balm with an SPF of at least 15.

For those who wish to go the extra mile, one can consider extending their exfoliating and moisturising regime to their lips. To exfoliate simply use a soft toothbrush to brush your lips for a few seconds, removing dead skin cells and revealing newer, brighter skin. You should apply lip balm directly after exfoliating your lips, though, as exfoliated skin is more likely to be damaged by the sun.

More so, just because eyes don’t turn red and blister, it does not make them immune to the harmful effects of the sun. Sunglasses protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of cataracts. They also protect the tender skin around your eyes from sun exposure, thereby reducing the possibility of developing crow’s feet and other unsightly wrinkles.

Luckily, this year’s eyewear trends suggest flashy sunglasses are all the rage, according to Vogue. Colours, irregular and playful shapes, maxi or mini sizes – have your pick and be confident that your eyes are protected with any style, as minimal or as wild as you’re comfortable with.

Finally, your skin will never thank you enough for remaining hydrated. Water is your best bet for a summer beverage in order to ward off dehydration and replenish your energy levels. Drinking water is especially important when going outdoors for more than a few hours. BistroMD suggests that for every hour that you are in the sun, you should drink at least one to two glasses.

On this note, while it’s understandable that you’d want to have a good time during summer, it’s best to go light when it comes to alcohol. Opt for a nice glass of sangria, a cold beer, or a wine spritzer, which are all refreshing but light in alcoholic content. Bear in mind that alcohol has a dehydrating effect on your body, so it is recommendable to drink some water after consuming alcohol.

Your Checklist:

1.  Avoid the sun between 11am and 4pm so plan your outdoor activities accordingly

2. Stay indoors, or stay in the shade, but remember that UV radiation can be reflected off concrete, sand, water and snow. Therefore, a canopy or an umbrella will not provide complete protection and you might still get burnt. Shade can reduce UV radiation by 50% or more

3. UV radiation penetrates sea water.  At half a metre depth, UV is still 40% as intense as at the surface

4.  Cover up with appropriate clothes and a hat. The hat should have a broad brim to protect your ears and as much of your face as possible. Wet clothes are less protective than dry ones

5. Use sunscreen for areas of the body that are not covered by clothing. Sunscreen does not provide absolute protection. It is therefore placed at the bottom of this list

6. Clouds, if sparse, do not provide much protection against UV radiation.  Over 90% of UV radiation can penetrate light cloud.  Beware of burning during overcast days.

More in Health