Keeping Safe While Enjoying The Sun
While we are coming out from the lockdown, there are health concerns other than covid19 that you need to think about. As we have been shut away for so long and many of us have missed our holidays, it is easy to be tempted to catch a “few rays” in the local parks or at the beach, especially if the weather is nice. However, the risk of skin cancer (melanoma) is just as likely as it ever was. Each year there are 16,200 new melanoma cases diagnosed in the UK (2015-2017). since the early 1990s, melanoma skin cancer rates have more than doubled (135%). There are around 2,300 skin cancer deaths in the UK each year.
Who is most at risk?
The groups of people who are most at risk of skin damage and skin cancer are:
- Children (particularly babies) and young people
- People who tend to burn rather than tan
- People with lighter skin, fair or red hair, blue or green eyes or have a lot of freckles
- People with many moles
- People who have immunosuppressed
- People who have a personal or family history of skin cancer
- Groups who spend a lot of time in the sun such as outdoor workers, people who like outdoor hobbies or people who have intermittent exposure to sunlight and are therefore at increased risk of skin cancer like holiday makers
How do I reduce the risk to myself and my family?
- Where you are – UV levels increase nearer to the equator and at higher altitudes
- Time of year – from March to October UVB rays help people produce vitamin D but excessive exposure can also cause sunburn.
- Time of day – solar UV levels are highest around the middle of the day
- Weather condition – solar UV levels are reduced by cloud cover, but they can still be strong enough to cause sunburn
- Reflection – Sunlight reflects off surfaces such as snow, sand, concrete and water which can increase the risk of sunburn and eye damage, even if it is not warm.
You should protect your skin from strong sunlight by covering up with suitable clothing, seeking shade and applying sunscreen. Sunscreen should have at least “4-star UVA protection” and (SPF) 15 to protect against UVB. Get advice on sunscreen protection from your pharmacist
The amount of sunscreen for the body of an average adult to achieve the state of SPF is around 35ml or 6 to 8 teaspoons. As you should apply it at least three or four times during the day, this would mean a 200ml bottle of suntan lotion will only last one adult two days. If the sunscreen is applied to thinly, the SPF level is reduced e.g. too little SPF 15 could only achieve an SPF of 5.
If you are intending to be out in the sun long enough to get a sunburn, you need to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out and again around the time you actually go out. It then needs to be reapplied liberally and frequently including after being in water, if you have been sweating or if it has been rubbed off.
Checking for possible signs of skin cancer
You should check your skin regularly for possible signs of cancer. Changes to check for include a new mole, growth or lump, or any moles, freckles or patches of skin that change size, shape or colour. If you notice any unusual or persistent changes you should tell your doctor. If you are not sure about changes take a picture of the affected site regularly and then compare them over time. Remember there is no healthy way to get a tan from sunlight.