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Top Tips! Tan Your Hide

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As you pursue the bronzed body beautiful this month (despite hot weather warnings), can you be sure the sunscreen you choose really has you covered?
Imogen Clyde reports
PHOTOS BY Adobe Stock

SPF, UVA, UVB, waterproof, sweat resistant – the labelling used on store-bought sunblock leaves a lot to be desired. The marketing terms are at best vague (ultra-sport!), at worst misleading (total block!). It’s no wonder then that so many of us diligently apply a “high protection” sunscreen only to find ourselves burnt to a cinder within an hour or so. What we wanted was a golden sun-kissed tan, one that hides a multitude of flaws, and makes us look slimmer and healthier… and what we got was lobster.

Only ourselves to blame? Possibly. We all know deep down that sunbathing is a mug’s game: Too much exposure can cause not just temporary discomfort but premature wrinkling and sagging of the skin, eye damage due to macular degeneration and skin cancer. Still, sunscreen manufacturers claim to have our backs (literally) covered. So maybe, those of us who factor up religiously – who have made sunscreen an integral part of our daily beauty regime – have a right to complain when the products don’t do what they say they will do.

It has been over 40 years since the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced the first regulations for sunscreen. And the good news for sun lovers is that a good block can impede sunburn and lower the risk of at least one form of skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. But staying healthy depends on the sunscreen you choose and how you use it. We all know to use lotions that offer an SPF or sun protection factor rating. This measures a product’s effectiveness in preventing burns caused by the sun’s UVB rays. The best products also offer protection from the sun’s UVA rays. In lieu of a UVA rating, read the fine print for ingredients known to filter UVA, such as Mexoryl SX, avobenzone, itanium dioxide and zinc oxide.

An SPF15 product is said to screen about 94% of UVB rays, an SPF30 97%. But you’ll still burn if you don’t apply enough, often enough. Remember you are not using sunscreen in the way that it’s measured in the lab; use an SPF30 too sparingly and the effectivity is reduced to one third. Dermatologists suggest you apply a shot-glass worth of lotion for the body and a teaspoon for the face to achieve the SPF listed on the label, and that you reply every two to three hours. If you sweat a lot or swim a lot, double the dosage. This will come as a shock to those of us for whom a 250ml bottle usually lasts the summer. The bottom line, however, is that there is no such thing as a healthy “natural” tan. Tanning of the skin is a result of UV ray damage to the DNA of your skin cells, and skin damage is cumulative. Note that the Hong Kong Observatory now issues hourly public alerts when UV radiation reaches extreme levels.

So, maybe it really is time to start faking it. While tanning beds are not the way forward, as they are known to emit both UVA and UVB radiation, you can get a great fake tan in tablet form or in a bottle. Thus prepped, if you must head to the beach, slap on the SPF30+ and seek shade.

And a word here about the crazy-hot weather we are experiencing globally this summer… At the time of writing (late July) hundreds of millions of people around the world are sweltering in extreme heat, as recordbreaking heatwaves bake Europe, scorch the US and put dozens of Chinese cities under alert. In recent weeks, a total of 71 national weather stations across China have logged temperatures that smashed records. According to the National Climate Centre, four mainland cities – three in Hebei Province and one in Yunnan Province – saw temperatures reaching 44˚C.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Observatory recorded “very hot” days from July 8 to 16, as well as on July 19 and 20, with the nine-day streak ranking as the sixth-longest for the city since 1884. Arguably, the only thing to do when temperatures reach 35˚C is to head to the beach… but hot weather warnings are in place to remind us, first-and-foremost, to reduce our exposure to the sun. The Observatory has also introduced a new “prolonged heat alert” to urge us all to stay home and hydrated.

Our Instagram feeds are packed with photos of people across Europe and the US baking in the sun, and the images of Brits sweltering – even at the seaside – are perhaps the most surprising. Temperatures topped 40˚C in the UK for the first time ever last month, and on July 19, a new record for the hottest day ever seen in the UK, of 40.3˚C, was recorded in Coningsby, Lincolnshire, beating the previous record of 38.7˚C three years ago. By late afternoon, 29 places in the usually temperate UK hit 40.3˚C.

Global warming? You betta believe it.

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