I have quite pale skin that gets burned very easily, so I’ve always been aware of protecting myself when on holiday. I started feeling more strongly about sun protection after a trip to Croatia, where I’d spent a few hours swimming in the midday sun. A few days later I caught sight of myself in the mirror, and saw that the moles on my back had almost doubled in size.
When I got home I went straight to the doctor, who referred me to a dermatologist at my local hospital. Luckily I was told that although the moles had changed shape and size, they had not become melanomas – but I was also told to avoid the sun whenever possible, as I could easily develop skin cancer in the future.
I find it strange that despite being told of the damage the sun can do to our looks, and more importantly our health, there still seems to be a myth that you’re unhealthy if you don’t have a suntan. I think this belief comes from associating a tan with all things ‘summer’: long walks outside; days at the beach; adventurous holidays abroad. Pale skin seems to represent the young fogey that wastes their summer indoors watching TV!
I love exploring outside, travelling abroad, and going to the beach – and I definitely don’t consider myself having “missed out” because I don’t get a tan (or bright-red burn in my case). So I thought I’d put a list together of ways you can avoid sun damage – without having to compromise on your fun. Are you up for staying safe in the sun? Here’s how.
The beach umbrella is your best friend:
Experts recommend that you should avoid the sun between 11am – 3pm when it’s at its strongest. Shade really is the best form of sun protection. If you’re having a picnic in the park, stay under a tree; if you’re going to the beach, lie under an umbrella to read your book, listen to the sound of the waves, or go to the bar! I love to swim in the sea but I always avoid it until after 3pm when the sun is weaker and the temperature is usually hotter.
Adapt your style to deflect those harmful rays:
There are lots of fashion-forward clothes that will protect you from the sun, without making you look like a bee keeper. I would recommend getting these three lifesaver items that will help aid sun protection when exposure to the sun is unavoidable; they’re all in a light colour to deflect the sun’s rays.
1. A wide brimmed hat. This is a life saver because it means your scalp, face and the back of your neck are always protected – if the brim goes all the way round. It also stops the sun from beating down on your head when you’re out sightseeing. Marks & Spencer always have a nice range of reasonably priced sunhats, or if you’re willing to spend a little more, a stylish straw fedora from Anthropologie could be right up your street.
2. Sun glasses with proper UV protection. Unfortunately a lot of sunglasses are for appearance only. When you’re buying a pair read the label to make sure they have 100% UV filtration to keep your eyes protected. H&M have a good range of budget sunglasses.
3. A kaftan or beach cover up. This will cover your shoulders and back without making you look like a paper bag. Next do some really pretty white kaftans which would look great when you’re not at the beach with some chunky jewellery and sandals. Urban Outfitters have some kimono-style jackets that will cover your back and shoulders, which would also look good with jeans when you get back home. Remember that a layer of clothing doesn’t provide complete sun protection, but it certainly helps when the sun is unavoidable.
Get the right protection for your skin type:
I find when you’re looking for a sunscreen in the shops, it can be quite difficult to know which one will give you the level of protection you need. This online guide from beauty therapist and blogger Terri Ferguson, AKA The Writerri, can help you work out what SPF sun cream you need based on your skin tone and how easily you burn.
Another good rule to remember is that SPF only refers to the protection from UVB rays (the sort that cause burning). To avoid UVA rays (the nasty rays that age your skin) you need to make sure you have a broad-spectrum sunscreen, meaning the UVA protection is as high as the UVB protection. To check this, flip the sun cream bottle over and make sure it has a five-star rating. You’ll be surprised how low the ratio of UVA to UVB protection is on some sun blocks. When applying your sunscreen, also remember it should give you good coverage rather than be used sparingly.
Terri says: “Be vigorous with sunscreen application; neglecting areas such as the ears, scalp, under the eyes, lips, feet and the back can make a very unhappy holidaymaker.”
There are lots of sunscreens on the market. I prefer the Boots Soltan range because it works for sensitive skin. I also like Riemann P20 Once a Day 10 Hour Sun Protection, recommended by Terri: you only have use it once a day, which means you’re less likely to get caught out.
I should remind you that the NHS advises that “sunscreen should not be used as an excuse to stay out in the sun. Instead, it offers protection when exposure is unavoidable.”
Ignore peer pressure:
This might be my most important word of advice. Ironically it seems that people with naturally pale skin – who really should wear sun cream and avoid high levels of sun exposure – are the ones who are more likely to be pressured into exposing themselves to damaging levels of UV. Despite the warning I had from the hospital, I’ve repeatedly had people tell me I look “sickly”, a problem some believe should be resolved by either: 1. Intentionally getting a deep sunburn in the hopes I will tan afterwards; or 2. Using an electric sun bed (blamed for skin cancer quadrupling in this country since the 1970s) “to get my skin used to it”. My advice for dealing with this sort of pressure about tanning is to try to rise above it. It’s not always easy to do but if you’re accepting of yourself, comments from other people will mean a lot less.
I didn’t want to spend this blog post lecturing you about the dangers sun damage can have to your health and looks; instead I wanted to focus on sun protection methods that won’t stop you enjoying your summer holiday. This is a serious health issue of course, so before I go here are some useful links from those better qualified to talk about it than me.
- Terri Ferguson has some useful tips about protecting your children’s skin and what steps to add to your beauty regime before, during and after your holiday.
- A useful article from dermatologist Dr Nick Lowe, one of the country’s leading dermatologists about the long term effect the sun can have on your looks
- This YouTube video debunks the myth that tanning is healthy in less than two minutes
Hana Chelache lives in West London and enjoys writing about travel, food and life in London.