Protecting your skin in the summer: The answers to your burning questions

Sarah Spickernell
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Ne'er cast a clout till May be out, so the saying goes.
But the month of unpredictable weather is about to come to an end, meaning hours (hopefully) spent outdoors, lapping up the rays as we work on our “base tans” and max out on the vitamin D we've been deprived of for so long...
But that's only until sunburn rears its ugly head, and the reality is that even our most trusted suncream brands might not be giving us the protection we want and need - only last week, lab tests by Which? showed Boots Soltan and Hawaiian Tropic both give just two-thirds the amount of protection than they claim to on their labels.
It's important to be aware of the dangers early on so you can protect yourself against them, so here's everything you should know about sunburn, and how to keep skin safe.

You don't need to sunbathe to get vitamin D

Vitamin D has become a very useful vitamin for those who like a fast tan – every since it became apparent that sunlight creates this important chemical in our bodies, it's been used as a reason to lie out in the sun, unprotected.
First of all, there's little evidence that sun cream does actually stop vitamin D production – most tests suggest it reduces it slightly, but by no means completely.
On top of that, it's just as easy to get your necessary dose of vitamin D from food as it is from sun. Foods rich in it include eggs, mushrooms, certain dairy products, soya milk and fish oil.

Every time you get burnt is extremely dangerous

Getting burnt five or more times in your lifetime doubles your risk of developing a melanoma, the most serious kind of skin cancer.
Yet 42 per cent of people get sunburnt at least once a year according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

When the rays are strongest

You're most likely to get a safe tan if you go in the sun when it's least intense. Between 10am and 4pm the sun is at its peak, so it's best to try and remain in the shade for as much of this time as possible.

Sun cream isn't for life

If you've been a religious sunbather for the last five years, opting for the oils rather than the protecting creams, bypass that hardly used bottle you bought for a holiday in Spain in 2010 – like most things, sun creams have sell-by dates and it's worth buying a new one every summer, just to be on the safe side.

Buying a low SPF is a waste of money

A popular belief is that by investing in a sun cream with a lower SPF, you'll get the golden tan you desire while remaining safe from sunburn. That's a misconception - all sun creams protect skin to the same extent, but just for different lengths of time.
So by buying SPF 15, you'll have to apply sun cream every half an hour or so if you want to stay out of reach of harmful rays. By contrast, a cream with SPF 50 will leave you protected to the same degree, but for much longer.
So when you get that quick tan with a factor 8, it's because you're leaving your skin unprotected for long periods of time.
Caught out? Here's what to do
1. Have a cool shower and moisturise: rinsing yourself in cold water will calm down the irritation, while moisturiser will help hydrate the dried out skin. To avoid flaking or peeling, apply regular coats.
2. Drink lots of water: Getting burnt makes body fluid move towards the skin from elsewhere. To stop yourself becoming dehydrated, drink more water, juice and sports drinks than you usually do. This should be continued until the burn dies down.
3. Take ibuprofen: this reduces the swelling and redness caused by sunburn, and regular doses should be taken for at least 48 hours after initial burn. It might help prevent some lasting damage.

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