Whether you’re holidaying abroad, enjoying a staycation, or just making the most of the sunny weather at the weekends, there’s nothing better than being outdoors. But looking after your skin in the sun is a must, as too much exposure can cause sunburn and eventually lead to skin cancer.
Unfortunately, we still need to worry about sun safety and our sun protection. The number of people diagnosed with skin cancer in Great Britain has more than quadrupled over the last 30 years, with around 15,906 cases of malignant melanoma diagnosed in 2015. 86% of these cases were preventable.
What factor sun cream do I need?
The most effective sun protection when you’re out in the sun is an SPF (sun protection factor) cream. However, most of us don’t apply enough sunscreen for it to be effective. The average person needs around 36g of sunscreen to be properly covered, which is about six full teaspoons.
More than half a teaspoon to:
- each arm
- the face, neck and ears
More than one teaspoon to:
- each leg
- chest and abdomen
If you start off with SPF 50, but apply it badly, you’ll only get SPF 30, which is still OK. But if you start with a 15, this can go down to 7.5 and you won’t get the right level of protection. Many experts now recommend minimum SPF 30 to avoid this happening.
Make sure your sunscreen also contains five-star UVA and UVB protection. UVA rays are the ones that age your skin, while UVB rays burn the skin.
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Top sun safety tips
- Put on sunscreen 20-30 mins before going outside, and again when you’re in the sun to allow your skin to absorb it properly.
- Reapply sunscreen every couple of hours to maintain the right level of protection, and immediately after swimming.
- Even though some lotions are water resistant, up to 85% of a product can be removed by towel drying, so you should reapply after swimming, sweating, or any other vigorous or abrasive activity.
- Make sure you apply it behind the ears, the back of the neck, cleavage, tips of the ears, and the end of the nose as these are the bits we tend to miss.
- Avoid the sun when it’s strongest, between 11am and 3pm. Stay in the shade and cover up with long sleeved tops and trousers. Most women have melanomas on their legs, while men tend to get them on their backs, as these are the areas we expose most to the sun.
- Look for a picture on your sunscreen of an open pot with a number in it, like 12M. This is the use-by date in months. If your sunscreen has been open for longer than that, it has expired and won’t offer the right level of protection.
- You don’t need to sunbathe to produce enough vitamin D. Just 15 minutes a day in the sun without sunscreen should be enough.
- Don’t forget a hat and sunglasses to protect your scalp and eyes.
- Carry water with you to keep hydrated.
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What is skin cancer?
There are two types of skin cancer – malignant melanoma, which often develops from a mole, and non-melanoma, which develops from different types of skin cells. Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers.
Malignant melanoma is serious but quite rare, while non-melanoma is very common and less serious. Melanomas normally appear on, or near, moles. Non-melanomas may appear as small, itchy, shiny, scaly, red or pink lumps or patches that bleed and do not heal within four weeks.
You can check for signs of skin cancer by checking your moles using the A, B, C, D rule:
A – check moles haven’t become asymmetrical
B – check for irregular borders
C – check for any changes in colour
D – check the diameter to ensure they haven’t grown
What are the causes of skin cancer?
The reasons melanomas are increasing range from cheap package holidays and budget flights to sunny locations, to many of us still using sunbeds. Sunbeds give you a very intense dose of ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which you don’t get from sun exposure, which can damage your DNA.
Skin cancer experts say getting painful sunburn once every two years can triple your risk of getting melanoma. There is also evidence being burnt as a child – particularly under the age of 10 – can increase your risk. However, more than 90 per cent of skin cancers can be cured if detected early
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.