Advisable UV protection level in the UK

          A lot of people associate term “sunburn” with holidays, but the fact is more than a third of the people who took part in a survey in the UK (where I live) admitted that their last sunburn was actually in the UK [1]. Most of the time it happens when people are “out and about” – having walk in a town, gardening, washing a car etc. Therefore it is really important to use SPF products on daily bases whether it’s simple SPF moisturiser or proper sunscreen.

          In the UK between October and March, UV Index is normally 3 and lower, so people with fair skin shouldn’t need UV protection. In the summer UV rays are strongest between 11am-3pm so it’s recommended to stay in the shadow when the sun is strong. When it’s not possible people should wear T-shirt, sunglasses and use sunscreen with at least SPF15 [2].

          There is a useful tool, UV Index, that can show how strong UV rays are and where’s the higher risk of being sunburned. UV index is expected amount of UV radiation prediction that is expected to reach earth surface when sun is at its highest point (midday). UV radiation amount that reaches the surfaces depends on amount of ozone in stratosphere, amounts of clouds, therefore UV index changes every day and is different each time of the year. The highest is at summer solstice and lowest at Winter solstice [3]. UV index differs form 0 (at night) to 10. Normally UV Index in the UK is not higher than 8, but there was few days last year when it was (UV Index) around 9 and 10. When the person knows what their skin type is, it’s easy to find out when they need to protect themselves more against UV rays.

          Using “Skin type” is way to categorise skins sensitivity to the sun. In 1975 Fitzpatrick proposed classification of patient’s phototype [4], ability to burn and tan when skin is exposed to UV radiation which is shown in table below.

Skin Type
I Always burns, never tans (very pale skin, freckles, generally fair, red or sandy hair)
II Burns easily, tans minimally (Usually white UK skin types with fair hair, generally blue eyes)
III Sometimes burns, average tan (usually white UK skin types, slightly darker complexion, with dark hair)
IV Burns minimally, tans well (usual Mediterranean olive skin types)
V Rarely burns, tans easily ( Indian, some Asian skin types)
VI Dark brown or black skin (Afro Caribbean skin types)

Table 1. Skin types according to Fitzpatrick scale [5].

          The higher UV index is, the bigger dose of UV radiation reach the skin. Please see table below to see risk of burning depending on skin type and UV Index.

Table 2. Risk of damage to skin [3].

          UV Index forecasts can be checked at the Met Office website metoffice.gov.uk for each part of the UK.

          To simplify the SPF number needed for proper skin protection European Commission recommended SPF numbers and their Protection Categories presented in a table below.

Labelled Protection Category Labelling SPF (Sun Protection Factor)
LOW    6
      10
Medium    15
     20
    25
High 30
  50
Very High  50+

Table 3. SPF number and their protection categories [5].

          Minimum advisable SPF in the UK according to Cancer Research UK [2] is “at least SPF15 (the higher the better) with good UVA protection (the more stars the better)” and according to British Association of Dermatologists [6] –“at least SPF30 which also has high UVA protection”. It’s people individual choice which SPF grade meets their own requirements depending on their skin type. For me it’s mostly SPF 15 moisturiser that I use every day as my skin type is III.

          References:

[1] Am I at risk of sunburn, Cancer Research UK, http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/sun-uv-and-cancer/am-i-at-risk-of-sunburn, (Accessed 11.06.15)

[2] Preventing Skin Cancer, Cancer Research UK, Available at http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/skin-cancer/about/preventing-skin-cancer, Accessed 11.06.15)

[3] The UV Index, Available at http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/reports/wxfacts/The-UV-Index.htm, (Accessed 14.06.15)

[4] V. A. Narurkar, Cosmetic Dermatology, Dermatologic Clinics, Elsevier Health Sciences, 2009 – 138

[5] http://www.thefactsabout.co.uk/sun-protection-products/content/94 (Accessed 10.06.15)

[6] Sunscreen fact sheet, British Association of Dermatologists, Available at http://www.bad.org.uk/for-the-public/skin-cancer/sunscreen-fact-sheet, (Accessed 20.06.15)

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