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Saturday, 03 September 2016 00:00

Update from the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Directorate

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Charmaine Gauci

The Directorate is responsible for preventing illness and promoting health in order to improve the health and well-being of the Maltese population and for providing leadership for health promotion to reduce/delay the onset of illness. Throughout the year we focus on various aspects which all build up to encourage a healthier lifestyle. Throughout summer we encourage people to avoid sun exposure as this is widely accepted as the underlying cause for harmful effects on the skin, eye and immune system.

It is important to avoid sun exposure:

• As a general rule, whenever someone’s shadow is shorter than their height, care should be taken: the shorter the shadow the more likely it is that sunburn will occur.

• Solar UV is most damaging in the 3-5 hours around noon when approximately 50% of daily UV is received in summer, so avoidance of bright sunshine from 11:00 to 16:00 is desirable. If this is not possible, one should try to seek shade or cover up with clothing, a hat and sunglasses.

• Sunburn can occur on cloudy days as well as clear days, although heavy, overcast skies do offer some protection. It is the UV and not the heat rays of the sun that are harmful, thus one can still burn on a cool, windy day in summer.

• Care should be exercised in and around water and open spaces because of the extensive contribution of UV exposure from the sky (direct and atmospherically scattered UV). Many people are sunburnt when they are swimming, boating or playing on a beach.

• The best form of protection is to wear loose-fitting, closely woven fabrics that cast a dense shadow when held up against the light. Most types of textiles, both natural and synthetic, provide good protection against UV.

Topical sunscreens act by absorbing, scattering or reflecting UV. The sun protection factor (SPF) gives an indication of the effectiveness of the sunscreens. For example, a sunscreen with SPF 4 means that the UV exposure received after spending a given time in the sun is one-quarter that received in the absence of any protection.

For those people who want good UV protection, a high factor, broad-spectrum (blocking UVB and UVA) sunscreen should be used over those parts of the body that are not covered by clothing. An even thickness should be applied liberally to clean, dry skin and allowed to dry for 15 minutes or so before going outside. Sunscreens applied too thinly or too infrequently will not provide adequate protection. They should be reapplied every 2 hours.

Occupational exposure to UV should be kept to a minimum. The risk from solar UV exposure to outdoor workers such as agricultural workers, labourers, construction workers and fishermen can be minimized by wearing appropriate tightly woven clothing and, most importantly, a brimmed hat to reduce face and neck exposure. Sunscreens can be applied to exposed skin to reduce UV exposure further.

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