Staying safe under the sun

Staying safe under the sun
The Irish love of the sun must be tempered with prudence and sun cream, writes Jason Osborne

We’re getting to that point in the year when the sun starts to make its all-too-fleeting appearances upon these shores. Emerging from what seems like the rainiest start to a year in recent memory, I’ve lapped up whatever exposure to the sun I can get, whether it’s outside on the bench during my breaks or exploring the great outdoors on my weekends.

One weekend in particular saw me burnt to a crisp as I’ve always been a little negligent when it comes to applying sufficient sunscreen. Armed with a red sheen and uncomfortably hot skin, I made my way about for the next few days before deciding I should probably take the sun more seriously.

Just as the priest must garb himself appropriately when approaching the Holy of Holies, so too must we protect ourselves when facing that great metaphor for God’s love which sits above us in the sky. As with God’s love, sunshine pours down on us all equally, but our current mortal frame can only take so much.

The goods sunlight confers on our planet are many: life, beauty, energy, tanned skin, vitamin D, and many, many more things besides. Because the goods are so overwhelming, we’re often more than willing to overlook a little bit of sunburn or overexposure.

However, the dangers are real, with sunburn having the potential to lead to skin cancer, and an overexposure to the sun bearing within itself the danger of sun-poisoning or other, similar afflictions. Knowledge is our best recourse as usual, so knowing what causes these ailments and how to prevent them will be of great benefit to us as we enjoy the company of this rarely-seen friend.

Skin Cancer

The Irish Cancer Society tells us on their website that skin cancer occurs when skin cells become “abnormal”. It’s the most common form of cancer in Ireland, with over 13,000 new cases diagnosed in an average year. However, the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) expects this number to double by 2040.

Nine out of ten cases of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun or sunbeds. As with so many things, a moderate amount of the sun’s rays is in fact good for you, leading to the production of vitamin D and a healthy, tanned glow. Overexposure to those same UV rays, though, also causes damage to skin cells. Most of this damage is repaired, but some remains and this can lead to skin cancer later in life.

Sun poisoning

Sun poisoning refers to cases of severe sunburn. Sun “poisoning” might seem like an overly-dramatic term, but it is a dangerous phenomenon. It occurs, as with sunburn, after you’ve been exposed to UV rays from the sun for an extended period of time.

While sun poisoning initially appears as sunburn, it can include some of the following symptoms:

  • Blistering or peeling skin
  • Severe redness or swelling
  • Fever and chills
  • Dehydration
  • Disorientation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting

If you believe yourself to be suffering from this, it’s worth going to a doctor, as it may be more serious than your average sunburn. Treatment can include rehydration either conventionally or by intravenous (IV) fluids.

Staying safe

The defences against both of these afflictions and whatever other sun-related issues you may encounter are the same – lessen the impact the harsh rays have on you and spend less time under the sun’s glare, if needs be.

Good protection against UV rays ensures that most of these afflictions can be avoided. This doesn’t mean you have to avoid the sun altogether, it simply means you have to be smart about it. As mentioned, there are legitimate benefits to soaking up the sunlight, vitamin D one of the foremost among them in our present Covid-era.

Most of us protect ourselves when we’re on holiday in particularly sunny countries, or only on the hottest of days here at home. However, we could do with getting into the habit of equipping ourselves properly on less obvious days, as UV levels can cause damage whether it’s hot or cool, dazzling or overcast.

The Irish Cancer Society has developed a ‘SunSmart’ code to follow which allows you to minimise your risk while maximising your enjoyment of the sun at the same time.

Seek some shade

If you feel or know you’ve spent too much time in the sun, the most obvious thing you can do to mitigate that is get out of it. Good shade offers up to 75% protection from UV rays.

The best shade provides shelter from both direct and indirect UV rays. This is because UV rays can reach you in one of two ways.

– Directly from the sun

– Or indirectly, when scattered by clouds or particles in the atmosphere. Rays can reflect from surfaces like snow, water and concrete, too.

Choose your clothes wisely

Like standing in shade, covering yourself with clothing is a key way to keep yourself safe. Some fabrics give better UV protection than others, with linen, cotton and hemp providing the best levels of protection. Dark clothes also block more UV rays than light-coloured clothes.

Clothing that doesn’t offer much protection includes stretched fabrics that let the UV rays through to the skin, wet fabric and old, threadbare fabrics.

A hat is often a good idea too, as the top of the head is the area most heavily exposed to UV rays.

Wear sunglasses

Eyes can be damaged by UV light too, with short-term UV exposure resulting in mild irritation, difficulty with bright lights, excessive blinking, and sometimes sunburn of the cornea.

When choosing your sunglasses, two rules of thumb to keep in mind are: wraparounds are best, and UV protection is a must”

Long-term exposure can result in cataracts and, as with other parts of the body, cancer.

Eye damage from UV rays can start from a very early age, so it’s important to ensure children’s eyes are adequately protected with sunglasses when they’re old enough to wear them, and with a hat when they’re not.

When choosing your sunglasses, two rules of thumb to keep in mind are: wraparounds are best, and UV protection is a must.

Use sunscreen

The Irish Cancer Society recommends the wearing of sun cream from April to September in Ireland to reduce the risk of skin cancer. They advise that sunscreen alone isn’t enough to protect against UV rays, but must be supplemented with the aforementioned shade, clothing and sunglasses.

The type of sunscreen you use is up to you, with creams, gels and sprays all working equally well if used properly. Things to consider when choosing and using your sunscreen include:

  • Use sunscreen that protects against UVA and UVB rays, and generally go no lower than SPF 30.
  • Apply the sunscreen 20 minutes before heading out.
  • Reapply regularly.
  • Choose a water-resistant type if you anticipate yourself sweating or plan on swimming.


These seem like simple enough steps, but they make a real difference to your health and safety. Equipped properly, you’re free to enjoy your time in the sun without care or concern.