Stay safe in the sun… not only in summer

While the great outdoors may seem inviting at this time of year, it is imperative to protect yourself and your children from the harmful UV rays, even on overcast days.

Picnics, hikes and playing outdoors may seem to be a good way for families to spend some quality time together at this time of year. However, one should be aware that the sun’s UV rays are as powerful in spring as much as in summer and are equally as harmful.

Lawrence Scerri, chairman of the Department of Dermatology and Venereology, says that for a good indication of the sun’s intensity, one should follow the UV index, which is published daily by the weather websites.

“Anything from 7 upward should alert people to use effective protection or avoid the sun during peak hours. This is typically the case during spring and summer in Malta, even on overcast days.”

He adds that children suffer from irreversible UV damage, especially fair-skinned ones when they get sunburnt repeatedly.

Melanoma is rare in childhood and adolescence but sunburns leave their mark in the individual’s DNA, so it’s important to avoid sun exposure from the early years.

Lead by example and protect your kids

Adults should, first of all, lead by example. It’s best to avoid the sun from 11am to 4pm and apply sunscreen, factor 50+ (the highest protection possible) every two to three hours.

“This applies to all ages except babies since the latter should be out of the sun at all cost as their skin is too sensitive to tolerate sun or sunscreen,” Scerri says.

For older children, he says that it is best to apply sunscreen to all exposed areas around 20 minutes before going outdoors to give time for the lotion to get absorbed. One should not forget to apply sunscreen to the ears, back of the neck and the top of feet – areas which are often neglected.

Dress children in protective clothing like a wide-brimmed heat and longer cotton sleeves.

If a family with a baby has to go to the beach, they should make sure to go before 11am or after 4pm and protect the baby with sunshades, Scerri says.

Parents should also invest in good quality sunglasses as these reduce the risk of UV-induced cataracts.

If a child does get burnt, no matter the precautions taken, soak repeatedly with cool water, wash with bath oil and apply plenty of moisturiser until the skin goes through the blistering and peeling stages. Seek medical attention if there is a possibility of sunstroke.

“Children suffer from irreversible UV damage, especially fair-skinned ones when they get sunburnt repeatedly”

Some popular misconceptions

• It’s ok to stay in the sun to get a tan as long as the skin does not burn!

• You still accumulate significant UV damage in the long run.

• You do not need to apply sun protection if you’re underneath an umbrella or tent in an open environment such as the beach or on a boat. You still bet sunburnt indirectly from UV rays reflected from the sand, sea and rocks.

• Covering a mole with a plaster before going out in the sun prevents melanoma. Melanoma can develop anywhere on the skin and not necessarily in a mole, so one should protect all exposed areas and not individual moles.

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