Staying safe in the sun

Staying safe in the sun

Finally it has turned warm again and the sun invites us to spend time out of doors. However, UV radiation, especially if it is intense, can damage our skin. Our new health tip tells you when you have to be careful and how best to protect yourself.

The Swiss summer has not been at its best so far. So it's all the more understandable that people want to make the most of the beautiful weather to soak up the sun. What's more, the summer vacations are about to begin and many people will be heading for sun-drenched vacation destinations in the south. Always take plenty of sun protection with you. Because even if the warm rays feel good on the skin, they are unfortunately not at all healthy.

UV radiation and the UV index

Sunlight consists of three different types of radiation: infra-red, light and ultraviolet (UV). Around 4% of the sun's rays are UV rays. These are neither visible nor noticeable on the skin. Excessive exposure to radiation can damage the skin cells and lead to sunburn or eye damage. Those who expose themselves to UV rays unprotected over a protracted period risk sunburn, accelerated skin ageing and, in extreme cases, skin cancer.

To publicise the dangers of UV radiation, the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) publishes a daily UV index forecast (in German) showing how strong the UV radiation is expected to be in each region.

Risks of malignant melanoma

Malignant melanoma is the fifth most common type of cancer. It can be very aggressive, with secondary tumours forming in other organs. The melanomas are irregular black spots on the skin which can form as a result of excessive UV radiation or if unprotected skin is exposed to radiation too many times. People in Switzerland are at significantly higher risk of developing malignant melanoma. This is due in part to its many mountains – the higher up you are, the stronger the UV radiation. In addition, snow and water reflect radiation, which is why winter sports and Switzerland's many lakes and rivers also contribute to the increased risk. The best form of prevention is using adequate sun protection (even when it's cloudy), avoiding the midday sun and covering up sensitive parts of the body.

How can I protect myself?

To avoid sunburn and inflammation, avoid prolonged and intensive exposure to sunlight. The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommends the following rules (in German):
  • If possible, avoid the midday sun (from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and stay in the shade or indoors.
  • Clothing and headgear provide the best protection against UV radiation.
  • All uncovered parts of the body should be generously covered in sun cream with a high sun protection factor (at least 30 SPF for children and 20 for adults).
  • Use sunglasses (with 100% UV protection) to protect your eyes

How long can I stay in the sun with SPF 20?

Sun cream is not a protective shield against UV rays that lasts until you wash it off after application. However, it does extend the time you can be exposed to the sun without getting burnt. So if someone can only be in the sun unprotected for five minutes before getting sunburnt, you can multiply these five minutes by SPF 20 to get 100 minutes. After a good 1.5 hours, this person should reapply sunscreen.

In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.