Enjoy the sun in safety
Dr. Andreas Schmidt, Hohenstein Institutes in Bönnigheim/Germany
Dr. Andreas Schmidt, Hohenstein Institutes in Bönnigheim/Germany
Rising temperatures and sunshine will be luring families with children in particular outdoors again in the coming weeks.
Overexposure to radiation from the sun can be dangerous for children’s sensitive skin in particular, however. Dr. Jan Beringer from the Hohenstein Institutes in Bönnigheim explains why and shows how responsible parents can protect their children against sunburn and long-term damage.
Why is sun protection so important for children?
As the skin’s intrinsic protection mechanism only develops over time, the skin of infants under the age of one must not under any circumstances be exposed to direct sunlight. Even after this, caution is advised when exposed to high-energy UV radiation, as it is only at the age of 15 that the skin has achieved its full capability for self-pigmentation (tanning) as a form of protection.
Over recent years, the number of cases of skin cancer have significantly increased due to changes in the way people spend their leisure time and the increased intensity of radiation even in the Northern hemisphere. In Germany alone, there is an increase of 100,000 skin cancer patients every year. Although the majority of those affected are over 40 years old, the root cause for the development of carcinomas and melanomas often goes back decades, as around 80% of sun damage occurs before the age of 18. Sun protection for children is therefore particularly important, as the skin is affected by every single ray of sunshine to which it is exposed over a lifetime!
What is the effect of too much UV radiation on our skin?
The sun’s rays are, in moderation, important for our health, as they enable the body to produce vitamins D1 and D2 which are vital for bone formation.
As a protection against excessive radiation from the sun, the skin forms a pigmentation (tanning), which helps to block out UVA radiation and the higher energy UVB radiation in the outer layers of the skin. If the pigmentation is not sufficient, the rays can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, where they trigger the release of the body’s own messengers, known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are known as inflammatory mediators which cause inflammatory reactions in the event of sunburn with typical symptoms such as reddening, swelling, burning and itching.
For children, in particular, whose intrinsic protection mechanisms are not yet fully developed, or for fair-skinned adults, this can lead to the dreaded sunburn. In general, sunburn will heal within two to three weeks. In severe cases, however, thickening of the skin, known as hyperkeratosis, or depigmented scars may remain. Repeated cases of sunburn accelerate the skin’s ageing process, which can be seen by external signs such as wrinkling and age spots. The risk of skin cancer is also increased.
What is the ideal form of sun protection?
Dermatologists recommend that children, and anyone else who spends long periods exposed to the direct sun (e.g. pool attendants!), should be sure to take protection against UV rays. Ideally, this should take the form of sun-tight clothing, sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) for areas of the body not covered by clothing, as well as a hat and suitable sunglasses.
Why does sun cream alone not provide adequate sun protection?
The sun protection factor (SPF) given on sun cream indicates how much longer the user can stay out in the sun after applying the cream without putting his or her health at risk. The basis used for comparison here is what is known as the skin’s intrinsic protection time, which can vary significantly depending on the individual skin type. The skin of a person with skin type I, with red or blonde hair, blue eyes and a light complexion, has an intrinsic protection time of approximately five to ten minutes. If they are exposed to the blazing sun for longer than this without protection, they risk harmful sunburn. Using a sunscreen with a protection factor of 20, this individual can increase the time they spend in the sun to a maximum of 1.5 to 3 hours without risking damage to their skin, if sufficient cream has been applied at the correct time.
But beware! The protection factors indicated on the packaging are based on strict recommendations for application. Cream must be applied at least half an hour before sunbathing, for example, and even water-resistant products should be reapplied several times a day. It is also important to apply the correct quantity: product tests to determine the protection factor are based on 2 mg per cm2. As a general rule, this means that a teaspoon is enough to cover the face. This means that a 150 ml bottle should only be enough for 5 applications if used correctly!
What are the advantages of textiles as sun protection?
The protection offered by textiles against UV radiation is expressed as a UPF factor (UPF = Ultraviolet Protection Factor). This corresponds to the sun protection factor (SPF) on sunscreens. A simple, white cotton shirt has a UPF of 10, whereas tightly-woven, darker cotton clothing reaches values of around 20. Special weaves and synthetic fibres which can absorb UV rays enable UPF values of up to 80 for special UV protective textiles, measured according to UV Standard 801, making them significantly more effective than cosmetic sunscreens.
When is sun protection particularly important?
A number of manufacturers offer brightly-coloured protective clothing especially for children, which is specifically described as swimwear. Sun protection is particularly important when splashing around and swimming as the intensity of radiation in and around paddling pools and swimming pools is particularly strong due to the reflection from the water.
How can you identify textiles with high UV protection factors?
It is not possible to tell from simply looking how well a textile material protects against damaging UV radiation. When choosing suitable clothing, consumers are therefore reliant on the relevant product labelling from the manufacturers. The leading European providers have their products tested by independent test institutes under real-life conditions according to the UV Standard 801. This means that parameters such as soaking, stretching, wear or care are taken into account. This enables a realistic evaluation of the UV protective effect of a textile product, which is stated on the label as the UV Protection Factor. The number given corresponds to the sun protection factor (SPF) on sunscreens.
Is all shade the same?
With sunshades, beach tents etc., the UPF varies between 5 and 80 (measured according to UV Standard 801) depending on the material used and the colour. As with clothing, the UPF cannot be evaluated simply by looking, so quality products from a number of manufacturers are tested according to UV Standard 801 and labelled with the relevant UPF.
Where can I find out more?
There is a great deal of information on the Internet, and it is possible to order detailed written documents relating to sun protection:
And when is textile sun protection important for adults?
Adults who spend a lot of time outdoors in their work or in their leisure time should make sure they use effective UV protection in the form of textiles with a high UPF. Many manufacturers already have their products such as work wear or outdoor clothing tested according to UV Standard 801 and accordingly state the UPF on the product. Adults should also use sunscreen with a high sun protection factor to protect areas of the skin not covered by textiles. Particular attention should be paid to “sun decks” such as the ears and the nose.
Dr. Jan Beringer from the Hohenstein Institutes in Bönnigheim
10 tips for sunny days
1) Get your skin used to the sun gradually! Natural protection against the sun develops slowly, so increase exposure to the sun in stages using effective UV protection in the form of clothing and sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF).
2) The body’s own protective function against high energy radiation from the sun develops gradually up until the age of 15. In the first year of life, it is therefore taboo for children to stay out in the sun without protection, and UV protection for children in general is therefore especially important!
3) Avoid the midday sun. Between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. (two hours before and after the sun is at its highest), radiation from the sun is up to 150 times more intense than in the morning and evening.
4) For children in particular: clothing is the best form of sun protection. As the UV protection factor (UPF) of textiles varies considerably depending on the material and colour, please pay attention to the UPF indicated by manufacturers on special textiles according to UV Standard 801. A list of manufacturers can be found at www.uvstandard801.de.
5) Sunscreen with a high sun protection factor (SPF) (depending on skin type) should be applied to all parts of the body not covered by textiles. Don’t forget “sun decks” such as the ears and the backs of the feet. With many sunscreens, it takes 30 minutes for protection to take effect – so make sure you apply the cream in plenty of time before going out in the sun!
6) Reapply sunscreen several times a day. The protective effect decreases after bathing and water sports in particular, but also after sweating. However, the sun protection factor cannot be multiplied – if you apply sun protection factor 6 three times, you do not end up with a protection factor of 18!
7) Intensive UV protection is especially important in or around water or in the snow in winter. The reflected rays from the sun significantly increase the UV index. A current forecast for various regions can be found on www.uv-index.de.
8) Protect your eyes with a good pair of sunglasses. For children, legionnaire-style hats with high UV protection factors are a must. These also protect the sensitive skin on the ears.
9) Even when it is overcast and there is no direct radiation from the sun, around 60% of UV rays still penetrate the clouds. So don’t forget your sun protection!
10) Not all shade is the same. To avoid unpleasant surprises under sunshades, beach tents etc., don’t forget to pay attention to the stated UV protection factor. If none is given, caution is advised.