What Outdoor Workers Need To Know About Sunscreen
We've got a bombshell for you today: if you work outdoors during daytime hours, you're at higher risk of developing skin cancer.
In fact, over the last 25 years, rates of malignant Melanoma (a type of skin cancer) in the UK have risen quicker than any of the other top ten cancers. And outdoor workers have a higher risk of developing it - especially construction workers, who are a whopping six times more likely to develop skin cancer than the general population!
Why, you ask? It's all to do with exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun.
But fear not! You can still enjoy the sun and get your daily dose of Vitamin D while working in the great outdoors - so long as you make use of suitable sun protection.
UNDERSTANDING ULTRAVIOLET (UV) TYPES
To get a grip of sun protection, you have to understand solar ultraviolet light/radiation (UV). That sounds really fancy, but it's actually dead simple.
The sun gives off three types of UV: UVA, UVB and UVC.
UVA rays penetrate skin deeper than UVB and are associated with signs of premature aging (wrinkling, leathering, sagging and other light-induced effects of aging). UVA also makes the carcinogenic effects of UVB rays worse, and are increasingly seen as a cause of skin cancer in their own right. Roughly 95% of UVA rays reach the ground.
UVB are often known as 'the burning rays'. No two guesses why! They're the primary cause of sunburn and also increase your risk of skin cancer. Only about 5% of UVB rays reach the ground - but that doesn't make them any less dangerous!
UVC is blocked by the atmosphere/ozone layer. So thankfully we don't have to worry about them when it comes to sun protection.
WHEN DO I NEED TO USE SUN PROTECTION?
First of all, let's bust one myth: UV can't be seen or felt, so it can damage your skin for a long time without you knowing anything about it.
That is, until you wake up the next day looking like a lobster, or you start noticing more wrinkles than strictly required for someone of your age. Worse yet, you might one day be diagnosed with a melanoma of your skin.
But, luckily, there are easy steps you can take to protect yourself from the above scenarios.
THE UV INDEX
The best place to start on your quest towards sun protection is the UV Index, which you can view on the Met Office in map format. It's a rating system adopted by the World Health Organisation and tells you on a daily basis what the UV levels are.
This gives you fair warning when sun protection measures are needed, so you can change your behaviour accordingly to protect yourself against the risk of skin damage.
Unsurprisingly, the UV Index in the UK doesn't exceed 8. In fact, 8 is very rare and we only reach 7 on exceptional days in June or July. (Ratings of 9 and 10 are common in the Mediterranean though, if you fancy a holiday!)
When the UV Index is 3 or above, the amount of UV is enough to damage your skin. That's when you need sun protection if you're working outdoors!
HOW DO I PROTECT MYSELF FROM THE SUN?
We have one word for you: sunscreen.
And yes, even if it's cloudy, you might still need to apply sunscreen to stay safe as 30-50% of the sun's rays will still reach your skin. Always check the UV Index above, and you can't go too far wrong.
It's also worth noting some surfaces reflect UV more intensely than others - such as fresh snow which reflects up to 80% of UV. This means, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, you may require sunscreen if you're working outside on a wintry day!
Sunscreens vary in their ability to protect you against UVA and UVB rays. So let's break it down.
SUN PROTECTION FACTOR (SPF)
SPF is a measure of a sunscreen's ability to stop UVB from damaging your skin. Keep in mind: the SPF system doesn't protect you from UVA!
- SPF 15 blocks approximately 93% of UVB rays
- SPF 30 blocks 95-97% of UVB rays
- SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays
The difference between the percentages may seem small, but they make a massive difference depending on the lightness of your skin or whether you have a history of skin cancer. Additionally, no sunscreen can block all UV rays.
If you use a handy SPF calculation (SPF x skin type = total protection time from UVB), you can work out roughly how long your sunscreen should keep you protected for. Light to fair skin type is equal to 10 minutes, average skin type is equal to 15 minutes and tanned to dark skin type is equal to 20 minutes.
For example: SPF 15 x average skin type (15 minutes) = 3h 45mins.
However! Most people never put enough sunscreen on (typically only about a third or a quarter of what they should). This means the protection time is drastically reduced. So if you were expecting a protection time of 3h 45mins, this is reduced down to 1h 15mins.
For this reason, no sunscreen, regardless of strength, should be expected to remain effective longer than 2 hours without reapplication.
When working outdoors, an SPF of 30 is generally recommended. Just remember to keep reapplying!
UVA STAR SYSTEM
To keep yourself protected from UVA rays, you need to look for the UVA Star System. This will be displayed on most sunscreen packaging, alongside the SPF. (Please note the UVA Star System isn't a requirement, so some sunscreens choose not to display it on their packaging. They may opt for the simple EU recommended UVA circle logo instead, which shows you the product complies with EU recommendations for safety.)
The minimum UVA protection level is 1 star, with the maximum UVA protection level being 5 stars.
- 1 Star absorbs 20-40% of UVA rays
- 2 Stars absorb 40-60% of UVA rays
- 3 Stars absorb 60-80% of UVA rays
- 4 Stars absorb 80-90% of UVA rays
- 5 Stars absorb 90-100% of UVA rays.
For outdoor workers, a minimum 4 Star UVA rating should be used.
And remember - always use a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection!
HOW MUCH SUNSCREEN SHOULD I APPLY?
To get the full SPF of a sunscreen, you should apply 1oz (about a shot glass full). During a long day working outside, you might use around one half to one quarter of an 8oz bottle of sunscreen.
Sunscreen should be applied half and hour before sun exposure to allow the ingredients to fully bind to your skin.
P.S. If you're working hard and sweating a lot - you need to reapply your sunscreen more often than every 2 hours!
RECOMMENDED SUNSCREEN PRODUCTS
So, that's it folks! All that's left between you and sun protection glory is choosing the right sunscreen.
We supply a range of high quality sunscreens that can keep you safe from the sun's rays (so long as you apply the right amount - that's up to you!)
A perfume-free, water resistant sunscreen for professional use to protect the skin against UVA and UVB exposure. 5 Star UVA rating. 100ml bottle.
Sunscreen to protect the skin against harmful UVA and UVB rays. Perfume-free and non-greasy. Contains Vitamin E to soothe and condition the skin, and is also water-resistant.
Refill for the Deb Sun Protection Dispenser (code: DS102).