Woman's Weekly expert Dr Mel Wynne-Jones breaks down the new sunshine rules

Woman applying suncream

Do you know if you’re getting too much sun – or perhaps not enough? © iStock

Many of us are sun-avoiders because of our lifestyles and/or warnings linking the sun to skin cancer.

But we get most of our vitamin D from the action of sunshine on our skin, and there’s been a worrying rise in vitamin D deficiency that can weaken teeth, bones and muscles (and may cause other problems too).

So NICE, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence, has issued new guidance on sunshine’s risks and benefits.

Sunshine contains both UVA and UVB ultraviolet rays that can burn our skin, speed ageing (wrinkles and age spots), damage sight (cataracts, macular degeneration) and lead to solar keratoses (pink/brown roughened patches), or potentially fatal cancers (squamous cell carcinoma/ malignant melanoma).  Unfortunately, a suntan doesn’t protect.

When and where matters

Sunshine is strongest nearer the equator and at high altitude, and between March and October in the UK, especially between 11am and 3pm. Harmful rays can reflect off snow, sand and water, and UVA can pass through glass, but UVB (which boosts vitamin D) cannot.

We need at least 15 minutes’ daily sun on unprotected face, hands and/or forearms from September to April to get enough vitamin D. After that, it’s important to cover up
and protect in the sun.

Spend most of your time in the shade, but if you go out in strong sunshine, wear close-woven (to block rays), loose-fitting, natural fabrics (to stay cool), long sleeves/trousers/skirts, a broad brimmed hat, and wrap-around sunglasses with a CE quality mark.

Sunscreen should protect against both UVA (look for at least four star symbols) and UVB (SPF sun protection 15 or more). Spreading too thinly weakens its effect – adults need around 35ml (eight teaspoons) for body, face, neck and ears.

Apply it half an hour in advance, and again before going out if you’ll be out for long.

Reapply it regularly and after swimming, sweating, or towelling yourself dry.

Your vitamin D top-up

If you have dark skin, always cover up, or rarely go out, you may not get enough vitamin D from your diet (oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines, eggs, fortified breakfast cereals and spreads, and some powdered milks) and risk bone-thinning osteoporosis or muscle-weakening osteomalacia.

The Department of Health recommends a 10 microgram (0.01mg) vitamin D supplement daily if you’re in this group, and for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, and people aged 65-plus. There are separate recommendations for babies and children – see nhs.uk.

Check skin regularly

Everyone should check their skin once a month for changes like new lumps, moles, growths or raised/discoloured patches, as well as any change in the size, shape, surface, or colour, itching, ulceration or bleeding in an existing mole or patch.

It probably won’t be cancer, but show your GP, in case you need prompt treatment.

8 reasons you may be at higher risk

1. You have lighter skin, fair/red hair, blue or green eyes, or burn rather than tan.
2. You have lots of freckles or moles.
3. You’re a child or young adult (keep babies under six months out of direct sun).
4. Your immune system is lowered by illness or medicines.
5. You, or someone in your family, has had skin cancer.
6. Work or hobbies mean you spend a lot of time outdoors.
7. You like sunbathing or sunny holidays abroad.
8. You’re housebound, spend long periods indoors or cover up completely when outside.