Irish men are not known for their sun sense. Jonathan deBurca Butler goes in search of head-to-toe summer survival tips
THE recent spell of good weather has seen men across the country taking their first tentative steps onto our beaches. As the summer goes on and (here’s hoping) provides more of those glorious rays, we can expect to see more flashing of flesh, as well as ever more strident expressions of summer fashions.
While our European cousins seem to take summer in their stride, the Irishman still has a few lessons to learn about dealing with silly season in a... well... not-so-silly fashion.
Whether you’re a sun lover, the cut-up denim pseudo-academic with his book, or the football fan turned beach bum, it might be worth taking a few tips on fashion, footcare, fitness and all things sunshine related before taking to the sandy strands this summer.
Let’s face it, unlike our continental cousins, we are not guaranteed months of fantastic weather, so most Irish men don’t really dress for beach success. Shorts, for example, often fall into two categories — repurposed football jocks which just look awful coming out of the sea, or luminous kitsch which, although handy for lifeguards, rarely makes it onto the catwalks or beaches of Monaco.
Stylist and television presenter Darren Kennedy says it’s all about the fit.
“You want something that lands just at the knee; anything longer than that you start to look like a man-child, anything shorter than that and it’s starting to get inappropriate,” he says.
"Also you don’t want them too skinny or too tight, there should be at least an inch of a gap between the fabric and your skin. You’re getting into sausage territory very quickly if you’re wearing anything too tight.”
When it comes to t-shirts, Darren says being honest with yourself about your figure is the best way to avoid any fashion faux-pas and if you’re not sure, keep it simple.
“I’d be wary of any deep v-necks because the majority of the population can’t really pull them off,” says the 33-year-old.
“You can’t go wrong with a plain white or grey t-shirt or a Breton if you want something a bit chic. As for shirts, the classic Chambray shirt is nice and I’d be inclined to go for the long sleeve and just roll them up. If you’ve got a bit of a belly, a good look is a t-shirt and then leave the long- sleeve shirt open. Don’t try and tighten it in, it will just look like it’s bursting out.”
As for footwear, Kennedy says socks with sandals are a no-no “unless you’re a hipster trying to make a point”.
He also believes that Crocs are out this summer and that any kind of plastic should be avoided.
A more serious side to being out and about in summer, and that is skin cancer.
According to the Irish Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland, and it more common among men than women. In 2013, 10,785 cases were reported in Ireland. Of those, just under 6,000 were recorded in men. The incidence of skin cancer is set to treble over the next 20 years with the incidence of melanoma increasing in men at a much greater rate than in women (327% v 175%).
“Unfortunately, there is a common belief that in Ireland we are somehow at a lesser risk as our summer weather is often quite mixed,” says Kevin O’Hagan, ICS health promotion manager.
“We often hear how people only wear sunscreen when they are on sun holidays. But last year the UV levels across Ireland were high enough to cause skin damage on almost 90% of the days between April and September.
“Even though during our summer we may get cool breezy days or cloudy days we still need to be mindful that 40% of UV can still penetrate through cloud cover and cause skin damage and a cool breezy day in spring or autumn the UV levels can still be high enough to cause skin damage.”
But what about men’s attitudes to sunscreen? Research conducted in 2010 by the Skin Cancer Research Group at the School of Health and Sport Sciences, University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia found several telling differences between men and women’s views on sunscreen. It can probably be best summed up in the following statement about the over-30 men they spoke to who were “motivated to use sun protection if they were around their children, though their female partner was usually the one responsible for putting sun protection on the children and on the man.”
Add to that the finding that many men between the ages of 18 and 30 who applied sunscreen did so because they were “influenced by their mother”.
Back home, we are not good as we might be when it comes to applying it. O’Hagan points to research carried out by La Roche-Posay in 2016 which showed that almost half of adults (44%) admit to only wearing sunscreen in Ireland during the summer months, with an additional two in five only wearing sunscreen when the weather hits over 20 degrees and 10% not wearing sunscreen at all due to a belief that they don’t need it because of our weather.
In fact, only 8% indicated they wear sunscreen every day in Ireland compared to 80% of adults who wear sunscreen daily when on sun holidays abroad or in hot climates.
“Sunscreens are made not to extend your time in the sun, but to protect you from direct exposure to the sun when it cannot be avoided,” O’Hagan says. “People often use less sunscreen than is needed to provide good protection, and do not reapply the sunscreen frequently enough, reducing the protection factor from that indicated on the packaging.
“Do not extend your time in the sun because you feel protected by the sunscreen, as this offsets any protection that has been gained. against skin cancer. It’s important to remember that sunscreen will not protect you completely from sun damage on its own. So use sunscreens together with shade or clothing to avoid getting too much UV exposure.”
There is no better time to exercise outdoors than during the summer months. Step outside and you are exposed to real, natural daylight that has untold benefits for mind and body — not least the fact that it boosts your mood and vitamin D stores — that you simply don’t get with artificially lit gyms.
And there is an element of unpredictability that not only prevents you from getting bored, but also helps you burn fat like a furnace. What’s more, much of the exercise you can do outdoors is free.
Here are three things to try:
Running: Escape the tyranny of the treadmill and head out onto the parks and trails where you will be challenged by undulating terrain and changing surfaces. Run up real hills to develop leg and glute strength or run on sand for impressively toned calf muscles and lower legs. If you need a challenge, try a park run (parkrun.ie).
These free, weekly 5km runs are held all over the country and all you need to do is register for a barcode.
Park circuits: Who needs expensive gym equipment when you have benches, trees, fences, and logs as training aids. The trend for outdoor circuits has gained pace in recent years and many personal trainers now favour the natural environment for its unique fitness challenges.
Try bear-crawling up a slope to develop core strength, swinging from a tree branch to tone the arms, hauling around logs as alternatives to kettlebells, and box-jumping on and off benches for superb leg tone.
Outdoor swimming: Swimming amid wildlife and under blue skies is a far cry from the orderly and contained comfort of a swimming pool. And thousands are dipping a toe in the rivers, lakes, and sea of the great outdoors. Safety is paramount, of course, and there are excellent tips available from the Outdoor Swimming Society (outdoorswimmingsociety.com).
For open-water swimming events in our lakes and national parks, visit openwaterswimmer.ie.
Whether it’s a fear of crabs, or an aversion to being seen with anything less than perfect feet, Irish men are not ones for showing off their toes.
Our normally damp climate doesn’t lend itself well to feet and, as a result many Irish men suffer from fungal infections. Keeping socks on to cover the infected toenails perpetuates the problem.
For chiropodist and podiatrist Kate Monagle, the first step is to get over the embarrassment of showing your feet.
“Men care about hair far more than feet,” she says, “but it doesn’t matter how well- groomed a man looks, if his feet smell foul, nails are yellow, fungal and discoloured, there’s no point in looking good at the top if it’s not right at the bottom.
“Most men come to me when it is too late, and expect a miracle cure. Men’s feet need looking after on a regular basis and they need to make it part of their daily personal health grooming regime.”
Nails should be trimmed by cutting straight across, she says.
“Don’t tear or pick at them — this leads to ingrowing toenails. When you’re in the shower, wash between the toes, that is where dirt and bacteria are trapped and what causes fungal infections and use a fungal powder in socks when needed.”
It’s important to wear shoes that fit the foot, not the foot fitting the shoe, she adds. And when it comes to socks your toes need room to move.
For Olympic diver, Oliver Dingley, looking after his feet is essential. “As a professional diver it’s really important for me to pay close attention to my foot health,” he says.
“Because I train and compete in pools across the globe, I have picked up fungal nail infections over the years. They are contagious and an unfortunate side-effect of spending so much time in the pool. I can’t afford to have anything wrong with my feet, so now I have to protect them and check them daily so I can concentrate on the important stuff, which is hopefully winning.”
Additional reporting by Peta Bee
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