According to Cancer Research UK, around 15,400 new melanoma skin cancer cases are diagnosed in the UK every year, yet Brits are still not convinced of the damaging effects of the British sun.
It is a common myth that the ‘British sun’ is not as strong or damaging as the sun in warmer climates, but, even on cloudy, cooler days, this couldn’t be further from the truth. According to Cancer Research UK, over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and sun beds is the main cause of skin cancer. Almost 90 percent of melanoma cases (the most aggressive form of skin cancer) in the UK could be prevented by practicing sun safety and avoiding sun beds.
High levels of exposure to UV rays cause significant harm by damaging the DNA of the skin’s cells. Skin cancer occurs when the damage alters the DNA of the genes that promote skin cell growth.
There are two main types of UV rays: UVA and UVB. UVA rays account for about 95 percent of the UV radiation that reaches the surface of the earth. It deeply penetrates the skin, damaging and ageing skin cells and is attributed to long-term skin damage including wrinkles and sun spots. Sun beds are known to emit high levels of UVA rays, the dominant ‘tanning rays’ (up to 12 times that of the sun), which are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. According to skincancer.org, individuals who use tanning beds are two and a half times more likely to develop a type of skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).
UVB rays have more energy than UVA rays and can directly damage skin cells. Besides being the chief cause of sunburn and damaging the outer layer of the skin, UVB rays are responsible for most cases of skin cancer.
Perhaps the least talked about rays, UVC rays, may be the most harmful of them all. These rays, however, are unable to penetrate the ozone layer and do not reach the earth’s surface.
Sunscreen is a key line of defense against the sun’s damaging effects. Sun protection factor (SPF) is a measurement of a sunscreen’s ability to prevent UVB rays from harming the skin. SPF15 is able to prevent around 93 percent of incoming UVB rays from damaging the skin; SPF30 blocks around 97 percent of UVB rays and SPF50 filters out around 98 percent of all incoming UVB rays. Sunscreen is suitable for anyone over the age of six months old and experts recommend that people use a daily broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects the skin from both UVA and UVB rays.
Most cosmetic products today including moisturising creams, lotions and makeup contain a sunscreen of at least SPF13-15 to provide added protection and help you stay safe in the sun. If the days are particularly warm and prolonged exposure to the sun is expected, or if spending time in an outdoor swimming pool or sea, then experts recommend reapplying sunscreen at least once every two hours.
Sun safety myths
1. Sunburn isn’t possible on cloudy days. UV rays can penetrate through the clouds. If the UV Index indicates a sun strength of three or above, then the sun is strong enough to cause sunburn. Visit metoffice.gov.uk to see how strong the sun’s rays are in your area.
2. A tan can protect the skin from sun damage. According to Cancer Research UK, tanned skin only provides an SPF of about three, which is not enough to protect against the sun.
3. Applying after-sun will repair damage caused by sunburn. Applying after-sun lotion will not reverse the damage to the DNA already made by UVA or UVB rays. If you notice that your skin is getting red or burnt, it is essential to get out of the sun.
4. Higher SPF means more protection. No SPF offers 100 percent protection from the sun and SPF, whether 15 or 50, should offer high enough protection (if used correctly) wherever you are in the world. Make sure to buy sunscreen with at least four-star UVA protection, too.
Know your ABCDEs
Self-monitoring moles is encouraged as part of a daily check for signs and symptoms of skin cancer. The ABDCE rule is a useful checklist to rule out the possibility of skin cancer:
A—Check for moles that appear asymmetrical in shape
B—Is the border of the mole jagged or uneven? Benign moles are usually smooth and even
C—Does the mole vary in colour? Malignant moles tend to comprise of different shades of tan, brown or black
D—If the diameter of the mole is larger than seven millimetres, then seek medical advice
E—Has the mole evolved in shape or size?
Did you know?
Getting sunburn just once every 2 years can triple the risk of getting skin cancer.
Source: Cancer Research UK
9 in 10
People diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer in England and Wales survive their disease for 10 years or more.
Source: Cancer Research UK
During the summer in the UK, stay safe in the sun and keep in the shade between 11am and 3pm, the hottest times of the day.
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