Despite increasing awareness of the damage caused by solar radiation, UK residents and travellers continue to expose themselves to the sun's rays at home and abroad. While some exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is necessary for humans to produce vitamin D,1 patients should be advised on how to avoid sunburn.
UK summers may not always be hot and sunny, but easy travel to other countries puts travellers at greater risk of excessive exposure all year round. It is now recognised that a suntan is actually sun damage.
Skin is continuously exposed to UV radiation while outdoors. On holiday, travellers from temperate climates who normally wear long trousers and long sleeves discard this clothing in favour of shorts and T-shirts, and skin which is usually protected is suddenly exposed to strong sunlight.
In the UK, UV levels are measured with data available from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs.2 Solar UV radiation consists of non-visible wavelengths subdivided into three types: UVA (1 and 2), UVB and UVC. The ozone layer absorbs most UVB and all UVC radiation. Some UVB and all UVA2 wavelengths still reach the earth's surface. UVB is mostly absorbed by the epidermis and is responsible for sunburn, melanoma, skin ageing and photosensitivity.3,4
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