Protecting Skin in a Heatwave: Here are expert tips on avoiding and treating sunburn

Summer has only just begun, and already temperatures topping 30C have been forcast for Scotland – with a sizzling 40C predicted for south of the border.

Soaring temperatures have an impact on our bodies – justifying the health watch alerts for heat that have been issued in recent days – with our skin particularly susceptible to the sun.

Experts from online pharmacist The Independent Pharmacy are advising people to take the heat warning seriously and stay indoors where possible to avoid the damage it’s capable of causing.

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For example, 9 in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented by staying safe in the sun – with 80 per cent of harmful sun exposure occuring before the age of 18.

Smart suncare is absolutely essential if you want to enjoy summer with peace of mind, particularly for those in vulnerable categories like the young and elderly.

Pharmacist Scott McDougall has created a full guide on sun safety tips – from how to treat sunburn to the five biggest mistakes we make when applying sunscreen.

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He explained: “With the upcoming summer season set to be a particularly hot one, it’s important we enjoy our time in the sunshine appropriately and with peace of mind.

“Everyone should take sun care seriously to avoid permanent damage to our bodies.

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Sunburn is painful, unsightly - and can also cause serious long term health problems.

“Some people, including the young, elderly, and chronically ill, will be especially vulnerable during this period. As you embrace the season, pay close attention to yourself and those around you.”

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Here are his essential suncare tips to protect your skin.

Stay in the shade

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You should remain in the shade between 11 am and 3 pm (when the sun is at its highest point and heat continues to build through noon). If you’re outside, find reliable patches of shade such as under an umbrella or a large tree.

Sunscreen

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If you’re outside, apply sunscreen even if you’re in the shade. UV rays bounce off most surfaces (including sand and grass!). Use a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and reapply if you’ve been in water – even water-resistant sunscreen can wash off.

Wear clothing with a high UPF

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Fabrics with a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) of 30 and above qualify for the Skin Cancer Foundation Seal of Recommendation. Keep a t-shirt on as much as possible, but note a dry dark t-shirt may offer better protection than a light wet one.

Protect moles

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People with moles and freckles should take extra care in the sun. Monitor changes in your skin, moles, freckles and patches of skin that change colour should be reported to your doctor. Skin cancer is far easier to treat when found early.

Wear sunscreen under makeup

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Wearing a moisturiser or foundation with SPF does not mean you’re sufficiently protected from the sun (many cosmetics only range to factor 15). You should apply factor 50 or above directly to your skin first, then apply your makeup routine afterwards.

Choose the right lotion and use it properly

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Using expired lotion is one of five common suncare mistakes, so check the bottle as most products have a limited shelf life.

Your body will still absorb vitamin D through the sun cream so choose factor 50 where possible

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Don’t be stingy – apply liberally and reapply throughout the day (generally every two hours and immediately after a swim).

Don’t be too late with the sunscreen – apply before leaving, not as you burn

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Never think you’re fully protected – 100 per cent sun protection is a myth, so protect yourself with cover, cream and consistency

Be a role model for children

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A 2018 poll found that 47 per cent of UK parents are either unaware or unworried about the sun’s harmful rays – a worrying trend, especially during hot summer months.

Be a role model to your children by visibly practising smart suncare tips in front of them, including applying plenty of sunscreen and wearing a hat.

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Scott explained: “Babies and young children overheat more quickly than adults, making them one of the most at-risk groups during a heatwave.

“With children, stay indoors where possible, apply (and reapply) sunscreen, as well as put on a cap if you do go outside, and avoid enclosed prams to prevent overheating.

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“Keep babies under six months away from direct sunlight.

“Newborn babies should be breast or bottle-fed more often than normal, and older babies should be offered plenty more liquid, with water being the best option.

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“Of course, many young children may not enjoy drinking water. You can try putting ice cubes in the cup to make it more exciting. Or use sugar-free squash, but avoid fizzy soda and pop as these sugar-laden drinks will have a dehydrating effect.

“If you’re child is sick with cold or fever symptoms in a heatwave, seek advice from a GP.”

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Keep hydrated, avoid heat exhaustion

Did you know dehydration is the primary contributor to heat exhaustion? And your body can lose as much as 10 litres of water through sweat during a hot day?

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The 8x8 rule – a popular suggestion of how many glasses of liquid you should drink per day – is a good benchmark, but it’s not the same for everyone. Pay attention to the early signs of dehydration. Telltale biomarkers such as how often you urinate and whether it’s a deep yellow colour will tell you if it’s time to replenish your liquids.

Urine the colour of clear lemonade means you’re well-hydrated!

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Aloe Vera Is an effective sunburn treatment

When you start to feel sunburnt you should get out of the sun immediately and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration – sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface.

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Symptoms of sunburn include skin that is hot to the touch, feels sore, painful, and flakes/peals. Blistering may also occur in more severe cases.

Aloe vera-based moisturisers that are fragrance-free are lauded as an effective sunburn treatment as they have a cooling effect that stops itching and redness. Colloidal oatmeal (a popular anti-itch cream) is another example as it contains a variety of antioxidants that reduce inflammation.

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Aspirin and ibuprofen reduce redness, swelling and painful discomfort. Tightly woven fabrics with a high UPF should be used to protect from further skin irritation.

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