Everything you need to know about summer skin care

We often grumble about the weather in the UK, especially the lack of sunshine. When we do experience warmer days, we’re quick to dust off our shorts and wipe down the barbecue to take full advantage. As much as we need to soak in the rays for much needed vitamin D and mood enhancing benefits, we must also be mindful of the associated risks with prolonged sun exposure.

Summer skin care is important, here you'll learn about what does the sun actually does to your skin, and tips on how to prevent and treat common skin conditions

Choose skincare products with SPF

Having a product with SPF 30 or higher reduces risk of sunburn and permanent skin damage down the line.

Overexposure to ultraviolet radiation or UV from the sun can damage DNA in skin cells, causing uncontrolled cell division or melanoma. Besides the risk of skin cancer, sun damage can also lead to premature ageing, skin tenderness, dryness, itching, rash and prickly heat, to mention a few.

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All skin types can be affected by too much UV exposure, but some are more prone to sunburn than others. Lighter skin tones with less melanin, freckles and red hair are indicators of sun sensitivity.

Sunbathing without a SPF sunscreen should be avoided at all costs. Did you know that we need a teaspoon of SPF just for our face alone to keep it protected from the sun? Even on cloudy days make sure you’re wearing an SPF day cream. We all need to keep our skin protected from sunburn, as this can significantly increase the risk of developing skin cancer. Severe sunburn can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which can lead to visiting the hospital.

The NHS recommends the use of at least SPF 15 sun protection and higher for more sensitive skin types. Spend time in the shade, especially between 11am and 3pm from March to October in the UK.

A good way to check the level of UV rays is to do the shadow test. If the length of your shadow is smaller than your height, this means your UV exposure is particularly high. You can also check the UV index in your area on the Met Office website

Prevent Heat Rash or Prickly Heat

This can happen during prolonged periods in the sun and is usually caused by excessive sweating. The sweat glands become blocked, causing a rash to develop.

Children are more at risk as they are not as well equipped as adults in regulating their body temperature.

The rash can appear as small red spots and results in an itchy “prickly” sensation. There may also be some swelling.

Treatment includes, calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream and antihistamines.

The prickly sensation can be calmed by applying a cold damp cloth or ice pack, using a patting method. Scratching and the use of perfumed skin products should be avoided.

Easy steps can be taken to avoid developing heat rash, these include:

• Drinking plenty of water to avoid overheating and dehydration
• Taking cool baths and showers
• Wearing loose cotton clothing
• Sleeping in lightweight bedding

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Keep your skin hydrated

A hot summer means lots of sweat and dehydrated skin, so make sure you drink plenty of water.

Stay hydrated! It’s something we all know we should do more, but we need to drink enough water to keep our bodies hydrated. This is particularly important during the summer months when we lose more water through sweating.

The daily recommendation is 6 to 8, 8-ounce glasses of water, but this can vary depending on body size and fluid loss. Bear in mind, caffeine and alcohol act as diuretics and so more water is required to compensate and avoid dehydration.

Excessive alcohol consumption should generally be avoided on hot days.

A good way to ensure you are hydrated is to check the amount and colour of urine you pass. This should be clear or light yellow, in a similar amount to what you drank.

Darker coloured urine in small amounts is an indicator of dehydration. Other symptoms include, dry mouth, fatigue, thirst, headache, confusion, dizziness and light headedness.

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How to prevent and treat Fungal infection

Many varieties of fungi reside on the body as part of the skin’s resident flora or natural microbiome. Sun exposure and sweating can make fungi grow out of control resulting in an infection.
Ringworm, thrush and athlete’s foot are some well-known examples of fungal infections.

Tinea versicolour is another common fungal infection of the skin, caused by a type of yeast. This can happen anywhere on the body, but it is most common on the feet, groin, scalp and nails.
Symptoms of a fungal infection on the skin can include a red scaly rash, blistering, itching, discolouration and cracked, split or peeling skin.

Some steps to avoid fungal infections during summer include:
• Keeping clean and dry
• Opting for breathable, loose fitting clothing and footwear
• Changing underwear and socks often
• Quickly changing out of swim or gym clothing after exercise
• Wearing flip flops in public showers and bathrooms
• Looking after your immune system

What should I do if I already have a skin condition?

If you already have a pre-existing skin condition such as acne or recurrent hives, extra care should be taken in the sun. Some conditions can be improved through sun exposure, others can worsen. This varies person to person.

Itchy skin lesions caused by eczema tend to improve with UV exposure. Studies show that light therapy increases nitric oxide and regulatory T cell release, which help to reduce inflammation. But be careful, overexposure of sun and sweating might cause a flare-up.

Polymorphic light eruption rash, otherwise known as sun allergy, can be triggered by as little as 30 minutes of sun exposure. This is said to affect roughly 10-15% of the UK population and is more common in women, and those with fair skin between the ages of 20-40.

The rash can flare up within hours or as long as 2-3 days after sun exposure. This usually appears on the head, neck, chest and arms, and can take up to 2 weeks to heal.

Unlike prickly heat, which occurs due to overheating and sweating, sun allergy is caused by UV light exposure itself.

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Look out for Moles

Our skin gets its colour via specialised cells called melanocytes, which produce pigment or melanin. Sun exposure causes melanocytes to make more melanin, resulting in a tan. Moles are concentrated clumps of melanocytes; hence they appear darker in colour.

Recent research found that melanoma is almost 7 times more common in people with over 100 moles, compared to those with fewer than 15. There is evidence to suggest that repeated sun exposure can actually cause the appearance of moles.

Moles require extra UV protection as they are more vulnerable to UV induced DNA mutations, which can lead to the development of melanoma.

More tips on how to protect your skin in summer

Wear eye protection and ensure the lenses are UVA and UVB proof. Cover up with suitable clothing and take extra care to limit your child’s exposure.

In the same way our circadian rhythm helps us to sleep, our inbuilt skin protection also works with our body clock. A recent study showed that those who eat late at night may be more vulnerable to sunburn and longer-term effects of aging and skin cancer. The findings suggest a good eating schedule can aid in protecting the skin from UV damage.

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There are certain types of food said to have protective properties in helping the body to defend itself from UV radiation. Long-term intake of vitamin C, together with vitamin E, has been shown to reduce the potential for sunburn. Antioxidant rich food varieties combat free-radical skin damage.

Protecting your skin from the sun is not just about sun cream and shade, having a juicy segment of an orange rich in Vitamin C can go a long way. 

Examples of sun protective foods include:

• Citrus fruit
• Pomegranate
• Carrots
• Tomatoes
• Green tea
• Red wine
• Omega-3 rich foods such as salmon, mackerel, flaxseeds and chia seeds

If you need to see a doctor about any skin care related concerns, we can help with our private dermatology service.

Written by: Kim Catlow