Here comes the sun: how to stay safe when you're sunbathing

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Suntan lotion is not my favourite part of a holiday. Too often, I find it difficult to rub in and I’m usually exfoliating my skin with half the beach at the same time. (I seem to have exceptionally sticky skin.) But I know I have to use it, no matter how much I moan.

With the weather heating up, sunscreens have been on my mind. It was something that became part of my skincare ritual during the summer when I lived in Madrid. Coming back to the cloudy UK, I slipped back to old days – clouds are out, therefore there’s no worry…

Except we should be aware. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK, with melanoma skin cancer, which starts in the cells that create the melanin that helps protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet light (UV radiation), the fifth most common – even though 86% of melanoma skin cancer is preventable.

I have several moles, so I’m conscious of the danger. Melanomas can develop from existing moles or can create a new one. (I once went to my doctor with a new mole on my collar bone. It was a blackhead, but she told me it was best to get it checked. I enjoyed squeezing it later… Hope you’re not having breakfast.)

Like checking our breasts, we should check moles every month, too. And if you want to know what to look out for, just remember your ABC(D)…

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  • Asymmetry: the two halves have a different shape. I have a mole on my knee which is a perfect circle. If it ever changes, I’ll be straight to the GP.

  • Border: the edges of your mole, old or new, will be irregular or blurred and sometimes have notches in it.

  • Colour: the colour looks uneven and you may see different shades of black, brown and pink.

  • Diameter: most melanomas have a diameter of at least 6mm (slightly less than a quarter of an inch).

Of course, it’s better to stay safe in the first place. When I was younger, we would slather ourselves in coconut oil (or cooking oil, if we were skint) and fry. And I mean, FRYYYYYYYYYYY. We could hear ourselves sizzle at times. Leaving the beach (or the back garden) looking like a lobster fresh out of the pot was a badge of honour.

Is it any wonder I look back in horror?

Now I view any sunburn as a sign of moral failing. My body is precious. I need to take care of it and look after it. Submitting it to damaging UV rays is not self-love.

But I do love the sun. So if you’re like me, here’s…

How to enjoy the sun safely

Shade – I’d walk to work in Madrid in 40C because I’d keep to the shade all the way. I know every shadow spot in Madrid going (I should write a travel guide.) Women there will also use their fans as a shade and if we’d stayed longer, I really fancied a parasol. They are exceptionally chic.

Shade won’t protect you completely from UV rays, but it will help reduce your overall exposure.

Cover up – If your skin is covered, then you’re going to have protection. Invest in a stylish wide-brimmed hat. They look amazing and will protect your face, ears, neck and hair. Yup, thinning hair can be a problem as it will leave your scalp more exposed. I love this floppy sunhat from John Lewis – it comes in a range of colours, too.

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Also, go for clothes that are loose and have a close weave – if you can see through the fabric, it’s not close enough.

And don’t go dipping in the sea in your clothes. Yes, it may make you feel all Halle-Berry-sexy leaving the water, but it’s not good for your protection. Leave that to Daniel Craig…

As for sunnies, we all love the trendy-wendy styles, but make sure they have:

  • the CE mark and are British Standard;

  • a 400 label and 100% UV protection written on the label or sticker;

  • protection at the side of the eye, like a wraparound style. But definitley not like the ones Bono wears.

And finally…

Everybody’s free to wear sunscreen

I know you’ve heard the Baz Luhrmann song so listen to the man. Go for a good quality sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 for UVB protection and a star rating of 4 or 5 for UVA protection.

How to use sunscreen:

  • Make sure you put enough on – One squirt isn’t enough. Honest. You need around two teaspoonfuls of sunscreen just for your head, arms and neck. And rub it in well. Or get that lifeguard to do it…

  • Re-apply throughout the day – even if it says “once a day” or “water resistant”. Your sunscreen wears off with rubbing, sweating and getting wet.

  • Check the date on last year’s bottle – there will be a symbol on the pot with the letter M and a number which shows the number of months the sunscreen will last once it’s been opened. If it’s been open too long, its strength fades and you’ve lost your protection.

Sunscreen and Vitamin D

Vitamin D is vital for our bodies – a few years ago, I had leg aches and the doctor put me on a course of Vit D. It cleared it up in no time. That’s because Vitamin D helps bone growth and gives us protection against the likes of osteoporosis – something we have to think about as menopausal women.

While we can get Vitamin D from foods such as oily fish, red meat and eggs, the majority comes from sunshine on our skin. And it has to be sunshine in the spring and summer. Winter sun doesn’t have enough UVB radiation to allow us to make Vitamin D this way.

However, that doesn’t mean you should skip sunscreen. You only need to be out in the sun for a short time each day, letting it hit your arms, hands or lower legs. But you must cover up before you start to burn and use a sunscreen to protect yourself.

Oh, and you can’t get Vitamin D from lying on sunbeds.

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What sunscreen to use?

When I was in Madrid in April, I tested a bottle of Delph sun lotion I had been sent for review and actually had my suntan lotion prejudices challenged! Rather than an icky gooey layer on my skin, this felt more like a moisturiser and rubbed in easily so I wasn’t a Ready Brek woman with an aura around me. Nor does it have that suntan lotion smell. It has a scent, but not A SMELL, so you can wear perfume over it without any clash.

Also, because I didn’t have an outer layer of suntan lotion smothering my skin, my pores could breath. Why is that important? Well, when you sweat, it blocks your pores and you can develop prickly heat. And let’s face it, we get enough heat problems with the menopause without adding to it.

Overall, this was one of the few sunscreens where I felt I was wearing something normal. Most leave me feeling like I’m wearing an oil slick and I’m aware of it all day. I didn’t get any of that.

Best of all, it covers all the UVB and UVA guidelines targets and is a fraction of the price of most sunscreens. I’ve never understood why they’re so expensive. Surely something that helps protect us should be at a price range everyone can afford?

Anyway, we’re heading to the south of Spain this year so I’ll be stocking up. Yup, the only oil I’ll be reaching for will be olive oil to pour on my pan tumaca… Can’t wait.

What are your tips for staying safe in the sun? Let me know in the comments below…

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