Do I need to apply sun cream all year-round, even when the sun is not shining?

D: Could you explain to us, scientifically, why it’s a good idea to do that?

J: Absolutely. UV rays and sunlight are much stronger in spring and summertime. Although the UV rays are highest between April and September, they’re not absolutely absent for the rest of the year. So, it is important to maintain your sun protection practices all year round.

D: And again, that’s habit, isn’t it, once you just start doing it? So, for me, it’s just part of the daily routine and it would feel weird if I stopped now - I just sort of do it!

J: It would be like going out of the house without brushing your teeth.

D: Yes, exactly! And that’s what we want our kids to feel and think, so they can go on and be young adults and make responsible decisions. It’s a very grown up and sensible chat – I love it. Brilliant!

How can I protect myself and still get a tan?

D: We’re dropping a gauntlet for you here because, obviously, we know that getting brown is not a good thing because you’re not protecting your skin. But, what about people who still want to get brown?

J: Unfortunately, I don’t have a miracle answer for that. Apart from saying that self-tan is the only safe tan that there is.

D: Yes. I am obsessed and I know I sound like an advert for Garnier right now, but have you heard of Summer Body?

J: No, I haven’t yet.

D: Oh my God! It’s so good! So, Summer Body is… I can’t do fake tan, I streak so badly and I’m rubbish. My hands go brown and it’s an absolute nightmare! But with Summer Body, you dry off and you put it on after the shower (but you don’t need to worry about it too much, you can put on trousers and everything). And, it will stay for a couple of days and then it just gently wears off. But, if you build it up over two or three days, you get a really nice glow.

J: So you don’t look orange or fake!

D: Yeah, you just have a really nice glow to you. People are always going, “Ooh, you look nice and brown” – Summer Body! It’s amazing! I’ll get you some, from my friends. *taps nose*

How should I protect my kids from the sun?

J: So, I think it is really important, first of all, to instil a healthy attitude to sun safety in kids from a really early age because it sets them up with good practices for the rest of their lives. I know when I was a child my parents would just say, “Kids, put your sunscreen on.” and off we went. And I was sunburnt more times than I can remember.

D: Well, I’m impressed that your parents said that, I didn’t even know about it! I was sunbathing in baby oil! You’re younger than me though.

J: So, I think it is really important that we encourage them firstly to cover up, so that means a long sleeve t-shirt or UV protective clothing, sunglasses, a hat etc. But, of course, we must make sure that they do wear sunscreen and as parents, we need a little bit of help to know what to look for in the sunscreens.

D: And I think what’s really important to point out we should start this journey now with our kids. So, I started teaching my children about sun safety when they were born and it’s carried on. Chester always wears his t-shirt outside and now, at fifteen, my daughter will go and put cream on herself. I don’t even need to tell her. But that’s because she’s grown up with it and it’s become second nature - which is amazing, isn’t it? A whole new generation of people for which it has just become second nature! If we start young, they’ll just know.

J: I think that’s exactly right! I think if you’ve always done something in a certain way then your expectation is you have to do it. It is part of the routine and then you never forget to do it. It’s much easier teaching kids this way when they’re little and then they know that “If I’m going in the sun, or if I’m going to be on holiday or if it’s a nice day at school today, I’m going to need to wear my sunscreen.”

D: Can you quickly tell me about children’s skin? Because is it that before they are five they are particularly vulnerable?

J: I think that, actually, all kids are particularly vulnerable; their skin is fairer, they’ve had less sun exposure, so it is much more likely to burn. But, the evidence is that in early childhood and in teenage-hood, getting sunburnt at all does increase the risk of skin cancer and sun damage etc. later on. So, it is really important all the way throughout childhood.

D: I mean that’s our responsibility, isn’t it? We’re the ones looking after our kids’ skin and so it’s on us to make sure that doesn’t happen.

J: Absolutely! That is exactly right! So parents have a lot of responsibility when they are very little to teach children about how to protect their skin in the sun, and ensure that it is done and that the sunscreen is topped up etc. Then, as the kids become older and take more of a responsibility for looking after themselves, hopefully, they carry on the practices as they go forward.

How often should I reapply sun cream to my kids?

D: This is often a bone of contention… How often should do you think people should reapply?

J: I would say that once you have applied your sunscreen before going out and exposing your skin, let’s say in the morning, you should reapply it every couple of hours. That’s because you can’t guarantee it’s still effective a few hours after you first applied it; and absolutely if you’re swimming, or sweating or towelling off, the sunscreen should be reapplied immediately afterwards.

D: And that’s another reason why for little, tiny toddlers, the old sun suits are such a good idea, aren’t they? Because they do offer you some kind of coverage. A hat, a sun suit and then creaming all the bits that are exposed is a really good way of keeping them safe. Because otherwise, they’re in the water, out the water, in the pool or getting dried off, and trying to reapply the whole time is exhausting!

J: And if you’ve got more than one to look after then, as a parent, you could be spending pretty much all of your time applying and reapplying the sunscreen. So, I think, exactly, cover up or have the cream on, and there are so many different types of application nowadays that, usually, kids will find one that they like the feel of.

D: And I love this Wrap Splat Hat idea because, it started a couple of years ago and, for me, it’s quite nice because it’s becoming part of the summer schedule – Wrap Splat Hat, just do it! And it reminds me of when I was a kid; we had this thing called ‘Clunk, Click, Every Trip’. It wasn’t the law to wear a seatbelt and they started trying to get more people to wear seatbelts, so that’s how they did it. It stayed in my head forever and I’d really like Wrap Splat Hat to really just be part of – you know, “Come on kids, Wrap, Splat, Hat!”. Like everybody knows what that means: cover up, look after your skin.

J: Yes, absolutely! I think if something’s got a catchy sounding name and if there’s a programme that goes with it then I think it’s a really good way of engaging children in getting involved. It’s something that’s for them, it’s not just for grown-ups to do, it’s not something that your mum just nags you to do; it’s something for you to do!

D: If you were going to give everybody one word of advice, what would you say?

J: I’d say my top tip really would be to incorporate sun protection into a skin care routine on a daily basis, and I think that it’s good place to start this sort of practice when kids, perhaps, are starting to be more responsible for themselves. For example, as teenagers and then they will continue this practice for the rest of their lives because it will feel absolutely normal and natural.

D: Yes absolutely, it’s what you do!

J: Protect their skin from the sun every day, exactly!

What are the negative effects of sun on my skin?

D: So, what would the negative effects of sun on skin be?

J: In the short term, going red, getting sunburnt, blistering and peeling.

D: *whispering* I’ve had that… terrible.

J: So, not good! Not only is it uncomfortable, but we know that the risk of skin cancer is increased through intermittent sun burn episodes. So preventing sunburn is really important: firstly, to avoid the discomfort in the shorter term and secondly, to reduce the risk of skin cancer. And, we do know that getting sunburnt even once in childhood significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. And then, of course, other things like slowing the signs of skin ageing etc., which is something I get asked about quite a lot.

D: Well yes, because we are all slightly obsessed with staying younger looking! It’s quite interesting because my kids, now, when they see a really leathery person on the beach, who looks so tanned and wrinkled that they sort of think ‘oogh’ look at that! Because it’s someone who’s really adored the sun but now they’re paying the price.

J: I think that’s exactly right! I think it’s something that more of us feel like we can relate to because we see people getting older around us, so we feel like it’s more of a realistic risk – the risk of premature skin ageing, but there is always the risk of skin cancer as well from sun exposure. We mustn’t forget that this is the sort of thing that can happen. It does happen! So, it is really important that we take the measures to reduce the risk.

D: Yes, totally!

Do sun creams prevent me from getting enough vitamin D?

D: Can I ask you something else? Because we’re hearing a lot about vitamin D and we should all get vitamin D, and, actually, is SPF cream or sun tan lotion stopping us from getting enough? There have been a lot of articles about that recently; can you talk me through that because I don’t understand that either?

J: Yeah, sure! You’re not alone in not understanding and actually because this is a really controversial area…

D: It’s very difficult, isn’t it?

J: Scientists just can’t really agree on sunshine and vitamin D, how much we should have and what should we protect against etc. Essentially, we get vitamin D from two sources: the first is diet and the second is sunshine. We mostly get it from sunshine, but the problem with sunshine, as we’ve talked about previously, is that it contains UV rays and we know that these increase our chances of getting skin cancer, but also for skin ageing and all sorts of other undesirable things. So, yes, you can boost your vitamin D levels with brief exposure to sunshine, less than would necessarily cause your skin to go red. The problem is the amount of exposure it takes me to make my vitamin D and the amount of time you would need to make your vitamin D will be slightly different. Plus, environmental conditions on one day (and one time of day) will be different to another place and another time of day. So, there is a risk of getting sunburnt if we say it is safe to go out for five minutes, or what have you, so we can’t give blanket advice about this and that means that the bottom line is the only safe way that you can get your vitamin D, really, is through diet and supplements.

D: I mean it is a grey area, isn’t it? And you’re thinking “let them be uncovered, unprotected for a little bit to get them some vitamin D, but then they get burnt!’

J: It’s really tricky and I think the other thing to say is scientists still haven’t even agreed what the optimum vitamin D levels are. So, we don’t even know really what we’re aiming for! This is an area where there’s lots of research into it, so, hopefully, it’s going to be a bit clearer for parents and for adults to know what we should be doing with regards to vitamin D going forward. But, for the time being, if there’s any doubt that your vitamin D levels are normal, having them checked is a good place to start and then take supplements to keep them boosted.

How do I choose my sun cream?

D: Can you just explain to me the whole SPF thing? Because, again, when I was younger, I thought I was being really good by using SPF 2, haha rather than baby oil.

J: And a lot of people do! If people are using SPF 10 or higher, they feel like they are doing the best thing for their skin because they would ordinarily use oil with an SPF 2, for example. When we’re choosing sunscreens, we’re looking for sunscreens that protect us from UVA and UVB rays.

D: What are they?

J: So UV, ultraviolet, is present in sunlight and these wavelengths of light penetrate the skin and cause DNA damage, and that can lead to skin cancer later on. But, in the shorter term, can lead to sunburn.

D: So, that’s UVA?

J: So, that’s UVA and UVB.

D: And UVB?

J: But, what SPF means (Sun Protection Factor) is what refers to protection from UVB. So, when we’re buying sunscreen and it says SPF 30 or SPF 50 that talks about the UVB protection, and I’ll explain exactly what SPF is in a moment. So, we also want UVA protection in our sunscreen as well, because why only protect against one form of UV? So, you’d be looking on the package labelling to see that it says UVA and UV, or sometimes you’ll see the words broad spectrum and that means that the sunscreen is protecting you from both. Sun Protection Factor’s a tricky thing to explain, but what it essentially means is that if I were to go out in the sun, with no sunscreen on and to expose my skin, it might take me normally 10 minutes before my skin would go red or burn. If I was using an SPF 30, it should take thirty times as long for that to happen, and if I’m using SPF 50 it should take 50 times as long to happen. So, the higher the SPF, the longer you’re protected from going all red. The other thing is, interestingly, if you use an SPF 30 you get about 97% protection from UV rays and if you use an SPF 50 you get about 98%, so that’s quite high. With much lower factors, in fact, not even that much lower (SPF 20 or 15), the protection is not nearly as good. So, all the evidence shows that SPF 30 or higher is, really, super good for protecting skin in the sun.

D: It’s interesting now, as well, that my older children, they’re not as interested in tanning as I was. Tanning, getting brown… it’s not cool anymore!

J: I wish more people were less interested in tanning! I still see lots of people, when I go on holiday, tanning and I find it somewhat unbelievable that people still go out to get a tan, because, in my mind, spending time in the sun equates to a higher risk of getting skin cancer because this is the sort of thing I see all the time in my job. But, I think you’re absolutely right! Attitudes are starting to change and the tan is slowly becoming less appealing, but we’re not quite there yet.

D: So, I think as parents nowadays – I mean, I’m definitely so aware of looking after my kids’ skin and seeing how vulnerable their lovely, beautiful tan-free skin is! You just look at it and it’s so perfect that, actually, we should be using what they’re using, right? As adults, it’s not like ’Use the SPF 50 on the kids and go for the tan on yourself!’

J: I think we’re much more conscious of what we do for our children than what we do for ourselves and I think that’s absolutely right! But, it is exactly the same for adults too – so, use broad spectrum, SPF 30 or higher ideally, sun protection cream. It should be applied, in my opinion, all year through.

D: Yes! Well, I only started this a few years back because the facial creams you can get have gotten much lighter and much better now. They’re just not as thick and gooey because it used to be that you could put on some cream and then you’d look a little bit like a ghost for a bit! It’s not like that anymore, this stuff’s amazing! It’s clear, it’s so amazing – you can put it underneath your foundation.

J: Exactly! So, I tell all the women, and men, who come to my clinic that they should use sun protection every single day on the bits of their skin that are exposed. So, this is not just for children, it’s for adults as well.

D: I mean really anti-ageing, isn’t it?

J: And skin cancer protection! So, from a skin cancer perspective, these are much more likely to occur at sites that are more frequently exposed to the sun - so, faces, ears etc.

D: And I had a mole removed from in-between my toes – it was fine! But, it is a funny place because, actually, if you look at your feet flat on the floor there are bits in-between your toes that actually get sun that you don’t get when your creaming. You must always remember to cream between your toes!

J: Exactly, we all know the areas where we’re likely to get caught out – our face, our ears, our shoulders, the front of our chest etc. But, there are bits which we forget to apply the cream to. And then re-applying cream, because that’s the other thing that people forget to do.

D: How often do you do that then?

J: Every couple of hours. So, it should go on ideally fifteen to thirty minutes before going outside to allow the filters in the sunscreen to be absorbed. Although, there are some sun creams that you don’t have to do that with. Traditionally, it would be fifteen to thirty minutes before, and then it should be topped up every couple of hours, if you’re spending the whole day outdoors or nipping in and out. And definitely immediately after swimming, sweating, towelling etc. – otherwise the protection can’t be guaranteed to last as long.