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Is Bronze Beautiful?

Many people who live or holiday in Bulgaria cite the weather as a deciding factor.

Bulgaria has four distinctive seasons: a warm autumn, a cold winter, a dry spring and a hot summer. In fact Bulgaria boasts on average between 2,200 and 2,500 hours of sunlight each year with an average temperature of 24 °C during the summer months. This makes for impressive reading if your main residence is Britain - known universally for its grey, dull weather. Naturally, the most popular souvenir holiday makers bring back from their Balkan break is a tan, or more worryingly a bad case of sunburn.

We all love good weather and being out in the sunshine has been medically proven to be good for our general mood and wellbeing. However this only applies to going out in the sun in moderation and wearing adequate sun protection. No matter what time of year, magazines bombard us with images of people with bronzed bodies, which give a perceived aura of a healthy glow. But the sun's harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage your body's cells leading to fatal consequences in the most extreme cases. Repeated sunbathing without sun protection can lead to skin cancer or melanoma.

Early warnings

Bulgaria is aware of its responsibility to help prevent sun damage to the skin of its residents and holidaymakers, and the country has a strong policy of spreading the message of staying safe in the sun via TV, radio and press announcements. This is particularly aimed at vulnerable groups of people including the elderly and especially young children. The Bulgarian National Centre of Public Health Protection has begun to educate even young children of school age to the dangers of sun damage to their skin.

This proactive countrywide study was aimed at identifying risk groups and especially targeted children of pre-school age and their parents in 2002. This study was a combination of questionnaire and informative leaflet and met with a huge public response and, as a result, established some very clear risk groups and statistics on the risks of sun damage and the threat of skin cancer in Bulgaria. The report concluded that a shocking 80% of children in Bulgaria are exposed to the risk of skin cancer from the sun's rays in later life. Children's skin is the most vulnerable to sun damage, through the study and subsequent safety notices the best way to establish safety in the sun for generations to come is to instill a common sense approach to minimising sun damage to skin from an early age.

Taking responsibility for your skin

Tanning is a natural process; your skin creates the brown-coloured pigment called melanin to protect it against the harmful UV rays in sunlight. What we all see as a healthy tan is in fact your skin's way of protecting itself from the sun's powerful rays. While a tan is your body's way of protecting itself against UV rays, if the damaged skin cells can't repair themselves, they can become cancerous. Whatever your skin type, skin is at its most vulnerable in spring, when the first warm days encourage us to expose our pale skin to sun for the first time that year.

A year-on-year tan doesn't guarantee that you will avoid skin cancer later on in life. Exposure to the sun is a key factor in skin cancer and the number of cases has risen steadily over the last few decades.

Full exposure!

If you really want to take full advantage of the Bulgarian climate, there are many nudist beaches, which offer a relaxed environment for naturists to get an all-over tan, safely of course! Bulgaria's best nude beach on the Black sea coast is in the Kamchia resort 25 km south from Varna. The perfect location nestles between a nearby river, forest and the Black Sea. Albena is also often considered to be the epicentre of Bulgaria's naturist scene. The 15-kilometre beach allows for a generous proportion to be dedicated to those who want to enjoy their own bodies, nature and the sun clothes-free. Unlike some of the smaller nudist beaches, there is approximately 7.5 kilometres of beach to roam. There are other nudist beaches near to Bulgaria's popular coastal resorts, these include:

Albena and Kranevo - after Gergana Hotel in Albena
The Golden Sands resort - after the yacht port in front of Glarus Hotel
Kamchia offers the widest nudist beach on the Bulgarian Black sea coast, which gives it the deserved reputation of Bulgaria's most famous nudist destination
Bourgas - north of the town after the Burgas Hotel in the direction of Nessebur, close to the saltpan of Bourgas.
Sozopol- south of Harmanite beach
Clothed or not we all have a responsibility to ourselves and each other to protect our skin from sun damage. Whilst we all dream of bronzed bodies, there is no need to put your skin, indeed you life, at risk for a short term tan, which is likely to fade long before the memories of your Balkan break. Stay safe.

Top tips for sun protection

To get the most out of your sunscreen, follow these tips:

* Don't wait until you are on holiday before you think about buying sun protection. Bulgarian tourist/coastal resorts add a premium for sun lotions. Always buy before you fly, and never go in the sun without adequate protection.
* Apply sun lotion 30 minutes before you go out.
* Use a thick layer of cream to get the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) protection indicated on the bottle. Even if you use a high SPF, you will burn if you miss bits and don't reapply frequently.
* The effect of sunscreen reduces after one to two hours in the sun - so make sure you apply more sunscreen at regular intervals.
* SPF 50 does not offer significantly more protection than a sunscreen with SPF 30. For this reason in Australia and America the highest SPF you will find is 30+.
* Swimming makes the skin more sensitive to the sun. Use a water-resistant lotion and always reapply sunscreen after swimming.
* Sweating dissipates sunscreen. If you sweat in the sun or you're taking part in any physical activity outdoors, make sure you reapply the lotion or use a cream that isn't absorbed by the skin. Look for products containing titanium dioxide or zinc oxide.
* Certain perfumes and creams can cause hypersensitivity to the sun's rays. To be safe, avoid wearing any products other than sunscreen when exposed to the sun.
* What are the warning signs that you've been out too long?
* The reddening caused by over exposure to the sun can be hard to see at first, but gradually becomes more obvious. You can test for this reddening by pressing your thumb against your skin, if upon lifting it reveals a white area, which quickly turns back to a red colour you have spent too long in the sun.
* What can be done to relieve sunburn?
* Cool the sunburnt area in tepid water for 30 minutes to one hour.
* Apply a pain-relieving gel; many now contain healing Aloe Vera extract, or other soothing after-sun lotion. Ask your pharmacist for advice on products you can buy without a prescription.
* Take extra care when cooling children's burns.

Contact a doctor if:

* The skin becomes very red and painful
* A small child or infant has sunburn