Its summer time again and, whilst research shows there are health benefits from spending a small amount of time in the sun, too much exposure can cause serious problems.

Here’s some advice from Dr Ali on how to keep your skin safe and what to do if you do linger longer on your lounger than you intended.

The problems with too much sun

You lie out in the sun hoping to get a golden tan but instead walk away from your lounge chair looking like a lobster that’s been left in the pot too long.

Despite health warnings about sun damage, many of us still subject our skin to the sun’s burning rays.

What causes sunburn?

Sunshine contains UV ( Ultraviolet ) waves. These waves break down your DNA and cause skin cells to die. We know it as sunburn.

Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)
UV rays explained

What are the symptoms of sunburn?

The symptoms vary from redness of the skin in first degree burns and crumpled, red skin in second-degree burns. If the sunburn is severe (third-degree burns) you will develop bulla (blisters filled with fluid)

Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)
Third degree burns

Why is sunburn dangerous?

The damage to DNA caused by sunburn must be repaired by the body.

Under the surface, ultraviolet light can alter your DNA, prematurely ageing your skin. DNA damage can cause skin cancers, even years after the burn.

Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)
Sun damaged skin – photograph courtesy of Ellipse

Tanned skin may be seen as more attractive but it is a sign of an increase in Melanocytes*, the bodies defence against excessive exposure to the sun.

*Melanocytes make a pigment called melanin. This gives skin its natural colour. The pigment helps to protect the body from ultraviolet light (UV radiation) from the sun. 

Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)
Diagram showing the structure of the skin

Exposing your skin to the sun causes a change in the production of melanocytes. Some of these changes can be abnormal and if the body cannot detect and correct these abnormalities it can lead to skin cancer.

How can you prevent sunburn?

Prevention is better than treatment.

Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)
Prevention is better than treatmant

Avoid the sun between 11:00 AM and 16:00 PM. This is when the sun and risk from UV damage are at the highest level. You should select a good sun cream suitable for your skin type.

Click here to read our article on sun awareness

How do you treat sunburn?

If you have a first degree burn you can manage it by yourself.

Apply cold compresses to your skin or take a cool bath to soothe the burn.

To take the sting out of your sunburn, gently rub on a cream or gel containing ingredients such as aloe vera or menthol. You can also apply a local anaesthetic cream.

Drink plenty of water to make sure you stay hydrated.Dr Ali's holiday advice - the problems with too much sun (part one)

When should you see a doctor?

If you are suffering from any of the following more serious signs of second or third degree burns you need to see a doctor.

  • Fever of 102 degrees or higher
  • Chills
  • Severe pain
  • Sunburn blisters that cover 20% or more of your body
  • Dry mouth, thirst, reduced urination, dizziness, and fatigue, which are signs of dehydration

Doctors and hospitals

If you do need a doctor during your stay there are clinics in most areas which are mostly open 24 hours during the peak summer season

The local hospitals also provide emergency medical care

Stay safe in the sun!

Additional sources – WebMD and Cancer Research UK