Hands with rash

Suffer from prickly heat?

As the summer heatwave finally arrives, a skin specialist is warning people to make sure they protect themselves in the sun.

Professor Lesley Rhodes, Honorary Consultant Dermatologist at Salford Royal NHS Foundation Trust and Professor of Experimental Dermatology at The University of Manchester, spoke out after a survey into sunscreen use revealed most people don’t understand what degree of sun protection different products provide.

In particular, many are unaware that the SPF rating alone displayed in sunscreen labelling does not guarantee good all round protection from potential sun damage.

In the Royal Pharmaceutical Society survey of 2,000 adults in Great Britain, only eight per cent of those surveyed knew that the SPF rating on the product label refers to protection from UVB rays only – and does not also include protection from harmful UVA rays (which is usually indicated by a separate ‘star’ rating).  More than 80 per cent said they either thought the SPF was an indication of levels of protection from both UVB and UVA (56 per cent) or they simply did not know what the rating stood for (25 per cent).

Prof Rhodes said this is particularly important for people who suffer from polymorphic light eruption (PLE) – a prickly sun rash which affect almost one in five people in northern Europe.

The itchy rash, which appears as small red spots and sometimes blisters, is the most common allergy to the sun. It typically starts about four to six hours after sun exposure, lasts for days and is usually caused by UVA exposure.

Prof Rhodes said: “Sunscreens give some protection for people with PLE but it’s really important that you check your cream has a good UVA rating if you do suffer from this irritating rash. There is no cure at present but if you can avoid the sun when this is intense, wear protective clothing when outdoors and use a good sunscreen, it can help to manage the rash.”

Prof Rhodes, who is President of the European Society for Photobiology, and her colleagues at Salford Royal’s Photobiology Unit are conducting research into the causes of PLE, which it’s thought may be an abnormal immune reaction to sunlight, as well as working on new cream approaches to protect those affected.

They are looking for people aged 18-60 who suffer from PLE to take part in a study to assess the effect of sunlight exposure on the skin barrier. It will involve exposing your skin to ultraviolet light, skin redness measurements and skin sampling. For further information contact joanne.osman@manchester.ac.uk or call 0161 206 0457.

  • The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has called for sunscreen manufacturers to provide one easy to understand rating, based on a simple description of the total amount of sun protection offered: low, medium, high and very high protection.