World UV and Smart Sun

On July 14, 2015 By Andrew Hogg In Uncategorized

Ah summer, a time for ice cream, the trusty bucket and spade and speedo adorned dads to show off their beer bellies up and down the land. The annual advice we doctors like to rattle off about protecting yourself in the sun is (to some) received like a wasp helping himself to your strawberries and cream.

This year there have been some innovative ideas to raise awareness about sun damage in an attempt to discourage the traditional sun seeker’s habit of grilling themselves into a lobster shade of pink after a day on the beach. Here I picked out two interesting ideas:

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World UV app

The  British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has launched the “World UV” app for smart phones. Developed in conjunction with the Met Office, the app provides real time information on daily UV levels across over 10,000 locations from across the globe.

The free app, uses GPS to pinpoint your location and provide you with relevant UV information. In addition the app purports  to educate you on your skin type and provide you with best practice advice on protecting your skin from the sun.

On the day of my test run, the local UV forecast indicates a rather surprising need to cover up my pasty complexion. I had a “medium” risk of being frazzled with my skin type. A quick glance outside suggests otherwise as it is looking a bit murky.  Whilst the app is commendable for encouraging us to protect the largest organ in our body I suspect the traditional weather forecast is likely to be just as useful for most.

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Next we have Smart Sun, a wrist band that tells you how much exposure you have had to UV rays by changing colour. The band can be be covered with sun block in the same way that you apply it to the rest of your body. As the level of UV exposure accumulates over the day the band gradually changes different shades of yellow through to pink, indicating a need for more sun block or a time to scurry for shade under the parasol. The idea came from some clever Nordic boffins over in Sweden who were apparently sick of burning their fair skin during the summer months. Certain situations can make it difficult to appreciate the level of sun exposure until you look in the mirror at the end of the day and discover you have fried your face off- we’ve all been there people, and let’s face it, looking like a pepperoni pizza at the end of your holiday is not doing your skin any favours. Bright light, a cool breeze, dips in the sea, being at altitude, these can all fool us into thinking we have received less UV rays than is the reality. Here we have a potentially useful tool to help protect our skin- it is however very reliant on an equal application of sun block over the body and  wrist band for its indications to be reliable. Unfortunately studies have shown that we are far from good at doing this but it’s a nice try and certainly may be a good option for fair skin types and the very young.

The notion of using visual references to indicate levels of radiation exposure is not a new concept- I recall from my hospital days that staff working in the radiology department used to have badges that would change colour if they were exposed to excessive levels of ionising radiation. Where one draws the line however in terms of how much is too much is likely to be a little arbitrary. Ultimately, and I know I am being a party-pooper here, all tanning is indicative of sun damage, increasing the long term risk of skin cancer and looking like a leather hand bag. For all this doom saying we do actually need some regular sun exposure to help improve our vitamin D levels and bone health. The BAD provide the following snappy advice “In white-skinned people, casual short sun exposures a few times per week, taking particular care not to burn and avoiding deliberate tanning, can help provide the benefits of vitamin D while minimising risks”. 

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