THE Great British Summer this year is far hotter and sunnier than usual and for longer.

Sunshine provides us with 90% of our vitamin D which helps us build healthy bones and teeth, protects against disease and slows the ageing process. Just 10 to 15 minutes in the sun is enough. It also boosts levels of serotonin – the body’s natural happy hormone.

Unfortunately, the sun also brings risks. Sunburn can be a major problem if you are outdoors for any length of time. The NHS warns you should take extra care if you:

have a pale or white skin

have freckles or red or fair hair

tend to burn rather than tan

have many moles

have skin problems relating to a medical condition

are only exposed to intense sun occasionally – for example, on holiday

are in a hot country where the sun is particularly intense

have a family history of skin cancer

To prevent sunburn, protect your skin by covering up with suitable clothing, finding shade and applying sunscreen. Wear a wide-brimmed hat and a long-sleeved top, trousers or long skirts made from close-weave fabrics that do not allow sunlight through.

Sunglasses with wraparound lenses with wide arms with the CE Mark and European Standard EN 1836:2005 are best.

Sunburn is actually skin damage from ultraviolet (UV) rays. The skin becomes, red, warm, sore and tender and may start to flake and peel after a few days, usually healing within seven days.

You can normally treat mild sunburn at home, cooling the skin in a cold bath, sponging with cold water or holding a cold flannel to it. Use lotions containing aloe vera to soothe and moisturise skin, drink plenty of fluids to cool you down and prevent dehydration. Take painkillers like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve pain (but don’t give aspirin to children under 16).

Try to avoid all sunlight, including through windows, by covering up the affected areas of skin until fully healed.

If you feel unwell or are concerned about your sunburn, contact your GP, go to your nearest NHS walk-in centre or call NHS 111. You should see your GP if a young child or baby has sunburn as their skin is particularly sensitive.

Signs of severe sunburn include blistering or swelling of the skin, chills, a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above, dizziness, headaches and feeling sick. Special burn cream and burn dressings may be needed for severe sunburn, available from your GP. Treatment in hospital may occasionally be needed.

The longer-term risks of sunburn include rough and scaly pre-cancerous spots on the skin called solar keratosis, skin cancer, damage to the eyes from UV rays and premature ageing and wrinkling of the skin.

Skin cancer affects thousands of people every year and, as Royal Bolton Hospital-based dermatologist Dr Corinna Mendonca explained: “The rate is escalating by 200 per cent every 10 years.”

Out of an average 14 patients she sees in clinic, two will have skin cancer. There are basically two types: basal cell cancer and melanoma with the latter the more dangerous.

There are now more older people with skin cancer, partly thanks to a lack of sun awareness in the 1960s and ‘70s when Continental holidays first became popular. As a result, Dr Mendonca sees many patients in their 60s and older with skin cancer.

She stressed the importance of avoiding the sun between 12 noon and 3pm, always wearing a hat – “this gives Factor 50 sun protection” – suitable clothing and reapplying sunscreen of a minimum Factor 30 every couple of hours.