Here are our top tips on how you can save your skin from the Spanish sun this summer, including a free online skin-type quiz, what you should avoid, and how to effectively protect your children too.
Too much of a good thing can be bad for you
As a people, we Brits absolutely adore the sun, but unfortunately, our relationship with it, living in the UK and all, is like being married to Henry DeTamble from the The Time Traveller’s Wife.
It randomly pops in and out of our lives, and only stays with us for a short period of time before – poof – it disappears again. When will it be back? Who knows!
But when it does arrive, and the temperature manages to creep up above 13°C, we are completely unabashed about showing our affection for our favourite star. Men whip off their shirts and put on their shorts, and women don bikinis or cami tops and skirts, just to soak up as many rays as possible.
Understandably then, spending more and more time in the sun has become a top priority for expats and holiday-makers alike, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to learn that Spain is the sun lover’s top European destination.
That’s because there’s nowhere sunnier in the whole of Europe and, even though as a country Spain has an extremely varied climate, in the end it doesn’t matter whereabouts within this lovely Country you visit or decide to make your home, you’re certainly going to find somewhere warmer and sunnier to stay than in Britain!
However, even though the sun can improve your health and it can put you in a better mood, there are some downsides to spending too long unprotected from the sun’s UV rays.
You will be at risk from sunburn (which can leave you with headaches; painful, red skin, chills, and nausea), and of-course, skin cancer.
To help protect and educate yourself, follow these 8 tips.
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1) Find out how susceptible your skin is to sun damage
Some people are more susceptible to sun damage and skin cancer than others, and that’s down to what type of skin you have.
People who have incredibly fair or ivory skin, lots of freckles, or ginger hair, are the most at risk, whereas people with very dark skin are at the lowest risk.
This is because people with a darker skin pigmentation have more natural protection against the sun.
So do you know your skin type? If you don’t, why not take this free skin type quiz?
It takes into account your genetic disposition and the way your body normally reacts to sun exposure, to tell you what your skin type is, and what precautions you’ll need to take to protect yourself from the sun in the future.
2) Avoid these sunburn boosters
If you can, it’s quite a good idea to avoid certain medicines, skin care products and foods when you’re planning to spend a lot of time in the sun, because there are many products which we use every day that can actually increase our sun sensitivity.
If you can, try to avoid using these prescription drugs and over-the-counter pain relievers
- Acne or eczema treatments (anything with benzoyl peroxide or hydrocortisone in it)
- Herbal remedies such as St. John’s Wort
Try to avoid using these skin care products
- Exfoliating facial scrubs
- Chemical peels
- Any skin care product that says it can be used to fight the signs of aging, and that has alpha-hydroxy or beta-hydroxy acids in it
- Any skin care product that markets itself as a blemish buster, one that clears blackheads, soothes red skin and gets rid of clogged pores that has salicylic acid in it
- Any skin care product that claims it regenerates the skin’s appearance and has glycolic acids in it
- Any anti-wrinkle skin care product that has Retin-A in it
And try to avoid eating
- Citrus Fruits (so watch out for those poolside margaritas and vodka tonics!)
- Artificial sweeteners
3) Use sunscreen
Sunscreens are used to protect our skin from the harmful effects of the sun, and they also help to protect against premature aging too!
Using a sunscreen will help decrease the risk of sunburn and the risk of getting skin cancer. The active ingredients in sunscreen work either by absorbing the sun’s UV radiation, or by reflecting it.
A broad spectrum sunscreen helps to protect against sunburn and skin cancer, and the most effective sun protection factor (SPF) is SPF 50.
If a sunscreen manufacturer claims that their product is water-resistant, they can only put on the label that the lotion lasts for either 40 or 80 minutes before the effects of the sunscreen are deemed ineffectual.
Because of this, it’s really important to apply at least one ounce (that’s enough lotion to fill a shot glass) of sunscreen, and lip balm, at least 15minutes before going outdoors, and to reapply it every hour and a half.
Remember also, don’t use sunscreens if they have gone past their expiration date.
4) Get a good pair of gafas de sol (sunglasses)
Not all sunglasses can protect you from the sun’s harmful UV rays and high-energy visible (HEV) light, and darker lenses aren’t any better at protecting you from the sun either.
In actual fact, unless they’re fabricated to block UV, dark lenses can be more harmful than wearing no sunglasses at all! That’s because they cause the pupils to dilate, allowing more UV light into the eyes.
The lenses of a good pair of sunglasses should be dark enough that you can’t see your eyes when looking in a mirror. Most glasses claim that they block UV, or are UV-absorbent, but unless they can block a specific percentage of UV, (the best are 99 – 100% absorbent), then they’re not going to be much use.
Therefore, it’s always best to go to an optician for your sunglasses.
5) Seek shade
Shade is a valuable means for protecting yourself against the sun’s direct UV rays, especially if you intend to spend a lot of time outdoors.
However, just because you’re in the shade, doesn’t mean to say that you’re completely safe from sun damage. Indirect UV light can still reach your skin when it bounces back from reflective surfaces like sand, water, snow, and concrete.
That’s why it’s still very important to wear sunscreen, even though you’re hiding from the sun under a hat, tree, or in a shaded structure.
Using umbrellas isn’t recommended as a place to shade under because they provide relatively little UV protection, in fact, you can still receive up to 84 per cent of the sun’s UV rays whilst hiding under a brolly.
Shady trees on the other hand, with large spreads of dense foliage, offer much better protection, especially during the middle of the day.
Hats are brilliant at protecting you from sunburn and skin cancer too, because the disease is disproportionately concentrated on the head. By wearing a wide brimmed hat and lots of suntan lotion on your ears, nose, cheeks and neck, you can really improve your chances of guarding yourself against sun damage.
It’s pretty safe to say that only being indoors can offer true shade protection. Which is why the Spanish have a siesta during the day, to get them off of the streets when the sun is at its most powerful.
6) Eat these foods!
Even though there are some foods which you should try to avoid when you’re getting your tan on, here are some which have actually been shown to increase the skin’s ability to protect itself from UV rays.
- Fish rich in Omega 3
- Red and orange coloured fruits and veg
- Dark chocolate
- Brassicas, like broccoli, kale, spinach and cauliflower
- Green tea
What are these foods sun blocking secrets? Antioxidants. They travel throughout your body, protecting your healthy cells from nasty free radicals, the molecules from the sun which contribute to sun damage.
7) Teach your children the ABCs about the sun
Because children spend a lot of time outdoors, they get most of their lifetime sun exposure in their first 18 years, so teaching them the ABCs about how they can protect themselves from the sun is very important for a healthy and happy childhood.
- = Away Advise your children to stay out of the sun as much as possible during the middle of the day (between 10am and 4pm) and if they do go outside, they should play in the shade
- = Block Teach your children how to apply sun block correctly, and tell them the importance of re-applying it every hour and a half
- = Cover Up Explain to your children that even though they’re unfashionable, hats are very important at protecting them from the sun, and so are long sleeved t-shirts and trousers. Even children as young as one year old should wear sunglasses with UV protection.
8) Keep checking your skin
Whenever you’ve enjoyed spending time in the sun, it’s important to keep checking your skin regularly, so that you can see if you’ve sustained any sun damage.
You’ll know if you’ve got sunburn because it is very noticeable (the affected parts of your skin become red, sore, warm, and occasionally itchy) and it happens in a very short space of time after being exposed to the sun.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for skin cancer, and it’s very difficult to tell whether you may have contracted it. It’s a good idea to keep an eye out for any changes on your skin, and make sure you inspect your skin regularly – and that of your partner and your children – to catch any changes early so they can be dealt with.
As a general rule, you should visit your doctor if you notice any new moles or growths, changes in your existing moles, or you have get cuts, scratches, or bruises which change, itch, bleed, or don’t heal.
So there you have it, eight tips on how to enjoy the Spanish sun safely.
And even though the notoriously scary ‘C-word’ was used, it’s important to remember that you shouldn’t overly worry about the sun, and certainly don’t let yourself become a solar-phobe. The sun is there for us to enjoy, and some exposure to it is beneficial to your health.
Spending time in the sun’s warm glow helps our minds and bodies in many ways. Some of the most important are listed below
- It increases the levels of Vitamin D in our bodies, and high levels of Vitamin D help to boost our immune system, lower cholesterol, they help the kidneys do their job of removing waste from our bodies better, they strengthen our bones, and they help reduce anxiety.
- It boosts our metabolism
- It reduces stress
- It fights Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
- The sun also helps alleviate the pain caused by diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS), rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure, and for those who don’t suffer from them, soaking up the sun’s rays can help prevent the risk of getting them in the first place.
- Amazingly, studies have also shown that the Vitamin D we get from sunbathing actually aids in reducing the risk of some cancers!
Michael Holick, M.D. of the Vitamin D Research Lab at Boston University Medical Center, sums it up perfectly. “The current message that all unprotected sun exposure is bad for you is too extreme: The original message was that people should limit their sun exposure, not that they should avoid the sun entirely… Some unprotected exposure to the sun is important for health”.
So what are you waiting for?! Get out there and get your tan on!
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