There’s nothing  like the feeling of the sun on your skin; that’s the reason so many of us sun-starved Brits migrate south for our holidays.  Humans are not the only ones to enjoy wallowing in the sun, as you will see from the picture above.  Despite all the warnings many of us still love to have a bit of a tan.  We are all aware that too much sun exposure is risky, leading to serious problems like skin cancer, wrinkles and premature ageing.  With summer holidays around the corner we thought this would be a good time for a few tips and reminders about sun safety.   It’s strange really that we humans need reminding as, by instinct, many animals know what to do…

Humans are not the only creatures to suffer from sunburn. Just as pale-skinned humans are more likely to burn in the sun, many hairless and pale-skinned critters have the same problem.  Whales off the coast of Mexico have been showing signs of blistering on their skin and scientists speculate that it is sunburn – possibly due to holes in the ozone layer and an increase in UV levels.  We have all seen hippos, elephants and rhinos using natural ways to cool down and protect themselves from the sun as they wallow in water and cover their backs with dust and mud.  That is always an option for us, of course, but luckily we have more fragrant and attractive ways to prevent sunburn.

All the tips and advice out there cause confusion.  It does seem, however, that too much protection or avoidance of the sun can lead to health problems associated with Vitamin D deficiency, so the answer is probably to aim for a healthy balance.

It makes sense to avoid the hottest times of the day and to cover up as much as possible.  Use sunscreen (don’t forget lips and ears), good quality sunglasses, and a hat.  Special UV-protection clothing is available and especially useful for those who are very prone to burning, or travelling to tropical areas.  Women in some countries use an umbrella for protection when out walking in the heat of the day but this alone will not give protection – and neither will that beach parasol.

Tolerance of the sun’s rays depends on many factors such as your skin type, the altitude, and whether you are close to reflected light sources - such as water or snow.  Some medicines may increase sensitivity to the sun so always check with your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking any medicines.  Drinking plenty of fluids and staying hydrated is also important.

One tip that is often missed is to check the expiration date of your sunscreen – if it has one.  From experience, many products do not carry an expiration date so be smart and play it safe.  Don’t use the same bottle of sunscreen that’s been under your bathroom sink for years!  Dispose of it and invest in a new product – and preferably one with a higher SPF.

It’s a good idea to keep a packing checklist in your suitcase (and filed on your computer) to use each time you go travelling.  Don’t forget to add travel insurance to your checklist!

Flickr cc: ewen and donabel

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