Dr Julia Sen: Keeping Skin Safe in the Sun

The key to staying safe in the sunshine is understanding the risks and adjusting your behaviour to ensure skin is properly protected at all times, says Dr Julia Sen.

Granted our recent spell of record-breaking temperatures could be a one-off this summer, but how many of you spent the weekend in the soaring heat only to turn up at work on the Monday morning with sunburnt shoulders?

For some reason, us Brits think nothing of slapping on the factor 50 when we’re holidaying in far off climes but seem dismissive about protecting our skin when we’re in our local park or back garden – even when the UV levels sky rocket.

It’s true that the sun, in moderation, can have an uplifting effect on our mood, as well as boost our vitamin D, improve circulation and increase metabolism; but too much is very harmful. We know that over-exposure can have both short and long-term consequences, and despite countless health warnings we have seen the numbers of both non-melanoma and melanoma cancers in the UK increasing over the past few decades.


Ultraviolet (UV) light is given off by the sun and is invisible to the human eye. Depending on their wavelengths, they are officially categorised as UVA, UVB, and UVC (the shortest rays absorbed by the ozone layer). The UV Radiation Index is used to measure the intensity of the sun – 3-5 is moderate; 6-7 is high; 8-10 being very high; and anything over 11 is seen as extreme. As an example, as we hit the heady heights of upper 30oCs, the UV Index for the West Midlands was eight.

UVA is the longest of the three and is recognised as the one that causes our skin to age. It penetrates through the clouds and even windows, through to our dermis (the layer of skin that lies beneath the epidermis). A study in southern France found those over 50 who spent time in the sun without protection had more facial lines and pigmentation than those of the same age who had safer habits. In fact, the research revealed that sun exposure accounted for 80% of the visible ageing observed. This is because too much sun actually shrinks collagen and elastin fibres, leading to wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

The intensity of UVB rays depends on the time of the year and time of day. They penetrate the epidermis (the top layer of your skin) and stimulate melanin – it’s why we get freckles; the more time you spend in the sun, the more melanin is produced. We suffer sunburn when our bodies fight to reverse the damage of too much UVB exposure, as our blood vessels dilate to increase blood flow to the affected area.


You need to remember that UV radiation is present all year round – even throughout the winter – so SPF should be an integral part of your daily skincare routine all day every day, ensuring you go for a higher factor as the UV Index rises. Put simply, it helps your skin tolerate the sun’s rays and as a general rule of thumb, if you go red within ten minutes then using SPF30 means it will take 30 times longer for this to happen, while a SPF50 allows even longer outdoors. However, the SPF only measures protection against UVB rays, so ensure you are using a broad spectrum sunscreen that offers some protection against UVA too (it will say this on the bottle). You can shop my range of iS Clinical Sun Protection products here Skin Store (drjuliasen.co.uk).


Thankfully, advances in aesthetics means we can now offer more effective treatments that help ease many of the signs of sun damage on our skin. Chemical peels improve the appearance and texture, targeting wrinkles, pigmentation and dark patches, and brighten dull skin. At Dr Julia Sen, we also offer Morpheus8. This innovative micro-needling procedure delivers energy to the damaged superficial layers of the skin to diminish hyperpigmented areas, improving radiance, tone and texture. You can find out more about the treatments on offer here Sen Aesthetic – Advice And Treatment – Dr. Julia Sen (drjuliasen.co.uk).

Dr Julia Sen, MB ChB, MRCOphth, FRCSEd(Ophth) is a Consultant Ophthalmic Plastic, Reconstructive & Cosmetic Surgeon with more than 20 years’ experience in her field. She heads up the Spire Southbank Eye Centre in Worcester, as well as her aesthetic clinic at BHI Parkside in Bromsgrove.

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