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  » Advice for travelers  »  Sun Exposure

Sun damage to the skin
Although sunbathing may be enjoyable and a suntan a status symbol, it must be remembered that excessive sun exposure is a health hazard due to the effect of ultraviolet (UV) radiation on the skin.

UVB causes sunburn which can range from intense erythema to blistering and 'burnt skin' similar to a burn from hot water of fire. Sunburn is more likely when, in addition to direct exposure from the sun, UV is also 'reflected' from water (swimming pools or the sea), white sand or snow. The risk is greater at higher altitudes when there is less protection from the earth's atmosphere. 

Both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation are known to cause pre-mature cancers. Drying of skin can result in exacerbation of facial seborrhoeic dermatitis.


Especially vulnerable groups
  • Babies and children.
  • Fair skinned people who often also have red hair or blue eyes.
  • Those with certain medical conditions such as albinism or previous skin cancer.
  • Those medications such as tetracyclines including doxycycline, oral hypoglycaemic drugs and diuretics.

Precautions
  • Babies under 9 months should be kept out of direct sunlight.
  • Children should wear long sleeved, loose fitting shirts, hats and high-factor sunscreen.
  • The greatest risk is from the midday sun, usually from noon until 14.00 hours (15.00 in tropical regions) when precautions are especially important.
  • Adults should wear a broad brimmed hat, long sleeved shirts and sunglasses.

Sunscreens

  • Sunscreens do not replace the precautions described above but they can help absorb UVB and to a lesser extent UVA.
  • Waterproof sunscreens can prevent their removal by sweat or water although they should always be reapplied after swimming.
  • There is a voluntary star system for sunscreens grading UVA protection; more stars indicating greater protection.
  • The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) refers to the protection against UVB (e.g. 'SPF 8' allows approximately 8 times longer sun exposure without burning than with no protection).
  • To gain effective protection a cream with an SPF value of 15 or above should be used.
  • Sunscreens are expensive - be wary of cheap sunscreens bought abroad which may not give adequate protection.
  • Check expiry dates.