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Summertime and the Livin’ is Easy

Summertime is here and we all look forward to enjoying more time outdoors. However, increased sun exposure can also increase our risk of skin cancer, meaning that staying safe in the sun is essential. Here is our insider’s guide to sun safety…

It’s hard to find someone who hasn’t experienced sun burn at one time or another, from unfortunate strap-marks to bright red blisters, we all know the pain and embarrassment that sun burn can bring. However, exposure to the sun is the main cause of skin cancer, meaning that staying safe under the sun’s rays is more important than ever.

What are the risks?

Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun so our skin cancer risk increases in the summer as a result of our increased sun exposure. UV rays also reflect off water and sand, so safety at the beach is extra important.

Sunbeds might seem safer because they eliminate time spent in the sun, but in fact they work by emitting UV radiation just like the sun and so are also dangerous to your health. Using sunbeds under the age of 18 has been made illegal in England and Wales as a result of the danger it poses to health. Sadly around 100 people die every year as a result of sunbed use.

There are two main types of skin cancer:

i) non-melanoma skin cancer, which is very common

ii) malignant melanoma which is less common but more serious

Some startling UK statistics

  • Over the last 30 years, rates of malignant melanoma have risen faster than any other cancer
  • Around 37 people every day are diagnosed with malignant melanoma; around 6 people a day die from it
  • Survival from malignant melanoma is now amongst the highest for any cancer

If you have: fair skin that burns easily, lots of moles or freckles, red or fair hair, light-coloured eyes, a personal or family history of skin cancer or a history of sunburn then you are at higher risk of the two main types of skin cancer and should take extra care, however it is in everybody’s best interests to be sun safe.

Our Top Tips to enjoy the sun safely:

• Try to avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm when it is at its hottest, if you do find yourself outdoors at this time, try to spend time in the shade of a tree, parasol, umbrella etc.

• Dress for the weather: Wear loose, light clothing that covers your skin and a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

• Use quality sunscreen every day (SPF of 30 for everyday use, and 50 when outdoors for lengthy periods) which has UVA A and B protection (check the label if you’re not sure).

• Reapplication, Reapplication, Reapplication! Reapply your sunscreen every two hours and every time you go into water.

• Check your moles – if you notice any changes to your moles or freckles, visit your GP to get them checked out.

• Stay hydrated – though this will not protect your skin, it will keep you from suffering from dehydration.

It’s not all bad news…

Though skin cancer rates have risen greatly over the last 30 years, survival from malignant melanoma is one of the highest for any cancer. Cancer Research UK reports that 92% of women and 84% of men survive for at least five years after their diagnosis.

And while exposure to the sun can be dangerous, it is also the most important source of vitamin D, which is essential for good bone health and has been linked with increased happiness. Enjoying the sun safely whilst taking care not to burn, can help to provide the benefits of vitamin D without unduly raising the risk of skin cancer. Follow our top tips, and have a fabulous sun-safe summer!

Professor Annie Young, Professor of Nursing

Skin Cancer Facts from Cancer Research UK