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Warning: Here comes the sun, and here comes the sunburn

Photo by 邱 严 on Unsplash

The summer months in Belgium were, let’s face it, a bit of a washout. But the situation in September is likely to be better, forecasters say.

At the same time, we’re advised to take that as a warning rather than a piece of good news.

“There is of course a very great desire to get out in the sun after all that bad weather,” dermatologist Thomas Maselis told the VRT.

“But our skin is not yet well-protected. Normally at the end of a good summer you have already had some UV light, your pigment cells have become active and you are tanned to a certain extent. That is less the case now. If you sit in full sun now, you run the risk of getting sunburn.”

And don’t be fooled into thinking the September sun is weaker than the sun in July and August. Everything depends on the UV index.

That goes from zero to 12; anything less than 3 requires no protection. That’s the kind of sunlight we experience in winter.

From 3 to 5 you should use some protection on exposed parts – the index has nothing to do with temperature. Even in late autumn when you can only sit outside with a jacket, the UV index could be higher than expected.

Any decent weather report will give an indication of the UV index. The Royal Meteorological Institute report for today, for example, cites a UV index of 4.8, described as ‘moderate’ and remaining unchanged until next Saturday.

That level requires protection, especially for those with pale and sensitive skin and obviously, levels over 5 require more.

Dr. Maselis offers some handy advice: look at the length of your shadow.

“In general, the sun is relatively safe if your shadow is longer than your stature. Then the sun’s rays have to pass through the atmosphere, which filters it for a long time. If your shadow is shorter than your stature you always have to protect yourself well. Here in Belgium you can call the sun relatively safe right now about at 2 am and 2 pm.”