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  Beware of the sun!

The sun, an enemy that means well

We all need the sun to live. It contributes to our psychological well-being (acts as an anti-depressant), has a positive effect on certain skin diseases, and  stimulates the production of Vitamin D, which is essential for children’s growth and strong, healthy bones.

The sun’s rays can be broken down into visible rays (sunlight),  infrared rays (which cause heat sensations) and  ultra-violet rays (UV). UV rays, which are invisible and give off no heat, are partially filtered by the ozone layer in the atmosphere. To defend itself, the skin increases the production of melanin, a pigment whose abundance in people from extremely sunny countries effectively protects them from the ill effects of the sun.

However, to overly expose oneself to the sun, even if you have naturally pigmented skin, is to run a high risk.  There is only one golden rule – to have fun in the sun, you must protect your skin!

The ill effects of the sun

  • Sunburn

This is a burn that manifests itself in first-degree as redness (erythema), which can then darken and become painful. A second-degree sunburn manifests when the skin forms a blister. Sunburns are more frequent in the tropics, the desert or in high altitudes, even if the weather is overcast. Also, one must be careful of sun rays that are reflected by snow or water (sailing for example), and avoid the sun at peak times, from noon to 4pm. Premature skin aging is directly linked to excessive, insufficiently protected exposure to the sun. The skin can thicken and become a yellowish colour along the cheeks and neck, and can thin out and become fragile on the backs of the hands and forearms, with the appearance of wrinkles and brown spots. In case of sunburn, protect yourself with maximum strength sun block. If necessary, avoid direct sunlight completely for several days. Use moisturizing creams and after sun moisturizing milks. If you are really sunburned, do not pop the blisters, but cover them with sterile bandages and take an analgesic (like paracetamol). If the burn is very serious (widely spread sunburn, skin has a cardboard quality, multiple blisters, general state is altered…) or if it has not improved after 48 hours, consult a doctor immediately. 

  • Sunstroke

Sunstroke is too often neglected. It can cause nausea, fever, fatigue, respiratory problems, headaches, vertigo, giddiness, fits of dizziness and convulsions. Sunstroke is usually closely tied to a certain degree of dehydration, resulting from prolonged exposure to the sun. If you suffer from sunstroke, remain in a dark room, apply a cold compress to your eyes, drink lots of water and take some aspirin. 

  • Allergic reactions to the sun

Nothing called a 'sun allergy' actually exists. It is more commonly referred to as Benign summer light eruption (BSLE). Whilst this skin disease has “summer” in its name, it can occur from exposure to the sun’s rays at any time or season of the year. 

This disease causes the sun-exposed skin to break out in little pimples and red spots, usually on the chest, neck, forearms, shoulders and top of the feet. BSLE, which is harmless, can also cause disagreeable itching, to the point of sleep deprivation in some people. This symptom usually disappears after 8 days of exposure – a tan, even if it’s discreet, can play a protective role. After 10-15 days, all symptoms disappear completely. The best protection against BSLE is to stay in the shade. The main risk is that you will manifest the same symptoms (breakouts, red spots and itching) every time you go in the sun. 

  • Melanomas

On a steady rise, these dangerous forms of skin cancer are the direct result of unprotected exposure to the sun. They manifest particularly in people with very fair, hardly pigmented skin. If you have a mole or beauty spot that changes shape or colour, gets bigger, regularly bleeds or itches, that loses its hairs, consult your dermatologist immediately. Only he/she will be able to reassure you and surgically remove the suspicious spot, if necessary.


Numerous medications, cosmetics and perfumes do not mix well with the sun. Certain long-term treatments (particularly antibiotics) are so-called photosensitive. When an organism in which certain medication molecules are circulating is exposed to UV rays, this  can provoke the production of toxic or allergy-causing substances. These reactions can be quite serious and may require stopping the treatment altogether or prohibiting all exposure to the sun. It is essential that you consult your doctor about this eventual problem so as to be fully aware of the potential photosensitivity of your particular medical treatment.

Of course,  while you are following your treatment, you must protect yourself from the sun. Even a simple exposure of your chest or hands can provoke such a reaction.

Don’t hesitate to approach your doctor with all your questions; he/she will be able to advise you about suspending or modifying your prescription, and replacing it with something that presents no risk to photosensitivity.

Don't forget the eyes

Sun rays tan the skin and can also affect the eyes! UVs accelerate the formation of cataracts (when the crystalline lens becomes opaque). These same UV rays also attack the retina and can provoke a degeneration of the macula luteau (an area in the eye near the centre of the retina where visual perception is most acute).

It is therefore  necessary to wear excellent quality sunglasses, even for those who a very sunlight tolerant. Effectively, the eyes protect themselves from overly intense light by reducing the size of the pupil opening. Wearing poor quality sunglasses can cause the pupils to open, which in turn will allow a greater number of damaging UV rays to pass through. Of course this results in the opposite of what was intended. The sunglass lenses should therefore block out at least 90% of UVA rays and 95% of UVB rays. Since 1995, European standards have set the filter quality: it is generally recommended to use CE3 or CE4 quality filters. For standards in your local country, be sure to check with an optician or local pharmacist. The size of your sunglasses should be well adapted to the size and shape of your face and large enough to protect even the sides of your eyes. Quality rarely goes hand in hand with inexpensive, so plan on spending a certain amount on excellent quality glasses.

Because their crystalline is not fully developed, it is essential to take these precautions with children. And remember that  babies and young infants should never be directly exposed to the sun.

Attention: « good sunglasses » do not permit a visibility adapted to driving an automobile.

Practical advice

To take advantage of the sun in total safety, follow this practical advice:

  • Measure the strength of the sunlight according to the earth’s latitude (the sun is much stronger in the tropics), the altiude (the UV index increases as altitude increases), the time (between noon and 7 pm the rays are vertical and therefore more aggressive) and the seasons (the sun is stronger in the summer than the winter). 
  • Take simple but efficient measures:  Take shelter during peak hours, wear clothing that protects your skin and stay in the shade. 
  • Guard against sunburn by using a sun cream that is well adapted to your skin type, and remember to cover those areas that are usually protected, like your feet. Renew your sun cream applications according to how sunny it is and to your skin’s sun sensitivity, as well as after each swim.  Although hats provide good protection, don’t hesitate to also use total sun block on your nose and lips. 
  • For children and adults with fair and fragile skin,  be particularly vigilant about their first exposures to the sun, which can cause significant burning, and have them wear hats and the proper protective clothing.
  • Remember to  protect your eyes with excellent quality, high filter lenses.
  • If you have any problems whilst travelling, don’t wait until you get home to consult a doctor. Allianz Global Assistance’s emergency medical team is available to discuss any questions or doubts you may have about your health. We can provide useful advice and organize a consultation wherever you are.

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