One of the most common questions we get at the Beach Tent Store is “How do I get the best protection from the sun?”
It’s an excellent question, so we thought we would do some research and bring you the facts, pure and simple.
The whole idea of sun protection is to limit exposure of the body, and in particular the skin and the eyes, to UV rays. These rays can cause a number of health issues, including sunburn and skin cancer. It’s important to understand that here we are talking about both UVA and UVB rays. UVB rays are the ultraviolet radiation that causes sunburn. UVA rays can be even more dangerous since they can also damage the health but don’t cause pain or reddening of the skin. A detailed study in 2004 (by M Berneburg, H Plettenberg, K Medve-Konig, A Gers-Barlag, O Gefeller and J Krutmann) showed that UVA also causes damage to the DNA of cells which lie deep into the skin. This increases the risk of malignant melanomas.
In terms of sun protection, you have four main choices:
Let’s look in more detail at these options and the amount of sun protection afforded by each.
Stay in the Shade
This is, of course, the idea behind a beach tent or sun shelter. They provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays but bear in mind that the UV can still arrive at the body via reflection from surfaces such as a light coloured table or a swimming pool. The material used in beach tents is designed to maximise the protection from UV rays.
Use UV protective clothing
This type of clothing is becoming increasingly popular, particularly with concerned parents looking to protect very young children. The basic idea is the same as using a sun shelter. The clothing provides a protective layer against the damaging UV rays, both UVA and UVB.
This type of chemical style protection uses an opaque sunscreen containing zinc oxide and titanium oxide. Neither of these metallic oxides decay with exposure to sunlight and such sunblocks are pretty effective at blocking both UVA and UVB rays. There is some controversy concerning the term “sunblock” since it implies total protection – and this may lead to a person underestimating the health risk of excessive exposure to the sun. In reality, to provide total protection the sunblock would need to protect from UVA, UVB and Infrared (IR) light.
Sunscreen is still the most commonly used method of protection but is probably the least effective. The well known SPF rating is a measure of protection from UVB rays only and therefore can be misleading. The better sunscreens are termed “broad spectrum” which means they provide protection from both UVA and UVB rays. The FDA have recently ruled that to be termed “broad spectrum” a sunscreen must have a UVA SPF at least as high as the UVB SPF factor.
In general when fabrics become wet their ability to protect from UV reduces, which is why manufacturers of beach tents and UV protective clothing use a liquid repellant on the fabric. Also be aware that as fabric ages, it also starts to lose its protective abilities.
Use the following rules to maximise the amount of sun protection from sunscreen:-
- Apply sunscreen quite thickly rather than a very thin film
- Apply sunscreen 30-40 minutes before exposure and re-apply after swimming and after excessive sweating.
- Avoid sitting in direct sunlight between midday and 4pm. There is a reason for the saying “only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!”
- Wear anti-UV sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat
To summarise the effectiveness of each of these four methods, we’ve put together a simple table as shown below:-
|Amount of Protection - UVA||Amount of Protection - UVB||Cost||Ease of Use||TOTAL SCORE|
|Beach Tent||*****||*****||***||****||17 Stars|
|Sun Protective Clothing||*****||*****||****||**||16 Stars|
|Sun Block||***||****||*****||***||15 Stars|
|Sun Screen||*||***||*****||**||11 Stars|
You can see that both beach tents and sun protective clothing score highly, but clothing can be more costly when you take into account the number of people which need to be protected.
Sunblock is also quite effective but can be messy and must be applied correctly. Sunscreen is quite a way behind, mainly because it provides little protection from UVA.
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