With the summer months fast approaching and the sun finally peeking in through the clouds here in England, it is easy to forget the importance of protecting your skin. The number of skin cancer victims is on the rise, with at least 100,000 new cases diagnosed every year, so it’s more important than ever to know how to protect your skin effectively. Skin cancer kills seven people EVERYDAY in the UK, over 2,500 people per annum. Survival rates closely relate to how early cancer is detected.
A common misconception in the UK is that on a cloudy day, protecting your skin from the sun isn’t important. However, you can still get sunburned on a cloudy day, although the clouds may block the sun light, they don’t block all of the harmful UV rays that the sun emits. Overcast skies still allow 30-40 percent of UV rays to penetrate through.
Many cases of sunburn occur when people are just out and about rather than deliberately sunbathing. Anything from watching sports outside, walking around town and getting your gardening done can lead to your skin being exposed to harmful UV rays. Therefore, you should try to stay in shaded areas when the sun is at its strongest, between 11am and 3pm. When you are in the sun, wear a wide-brimmed sun hat and sunglasses. ALWAYS use a high factor sunscreen (minimum SPF 15), applied half an hour before you go into the sun and reapply regularly, especially after swimming. Remember, even sunscreens labelled ‘waterproof’ can easily be sweated off or rubbed off by towel drying and the all-day sunscreens don’t take into account the fact that sunscreen can easily be rubbed off, therefore don’t give all day protection.
A top tip when choosing a sun cream is looking at both the SPF and the number of stars given for UVA protection. Most people overlook or are often unaware that sunscreens are rated separately for their SPF and UVA protection. The UVA star rating is usually on the packaging with the stars ranging from 0 to 5, the higher the number of stars the better.
A mistake people frequently make is believing that moisturiser with an SPF can be used as a replacement for sunscreen. Although they are good to use in general, the formulas are less likely to be waterproof and rub-resistant. Moisturisers are applied thinly and people don’t often reapply moisturiser, therefore you are unlikely to get the same level of protection. The majority of moisturisers containing an SPF don’t contain any UVA protection either and as a result will not protect against UV ageing.
Fake tan is another product that you can’t use as a sun cream replacement. If you are after a golden glow, fake tan is recommended over sunbathing or sunbeds, but that’s not to say that once you have a tan you are safe from the sun. While some fake tanning products do contain added sunscreen, these will only give you temporary protection.
Contrary to common belief, even the darkest skin types can burn, though they may take longer to do so. Darker skinned people may find physical sunscreens, like titanium-based products, can look chalky and white on the skin. Newer creams are micronized, so the particles in it are small enough to allow them to blend in and disappear into the skin. Antioxidant serums can help with the ageing effects of the sun but they are not as important as the main sunscreen.
If your skin looks slightly red after being in the sun, it’s burnt. Sunburn doesn’t just mean peeling or blistering skin. Sunburn indicated that UV radiation has damaged the DNA in your skin cells, these damaged cells can build-up over time and can lead to skin cancer.
Another thing you need to keep an eye out for is any changes in a mole’s size, shape or colour. If you have any concerns, it is best to seek advice from your GP or family doctor, who may refer you to a dermatologist. These are the only doctors who have specialist training in problems of the skin. A dermatologist will perform a full skin check up with the aid of a tool known as a dermatoscope and may go on to remove or biopsy the mole to assess its nature. Early detection is key and learning how to perform skin self-examination may be potentially life-saving.