Melanoma skin cancer incidence rates have soared by 45 per cent since 2004, according to figures released by Cancer Research UK.
In people aged 25-to-49, melanoma skin cancer is the second most common cancer, but according to the charity almost 90 per cent of cases could be prevented if people took better care of their skin in the sun – both at home and on holiday. In fact, getting sunburned just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma skin cancer.
Mostly inadvertent, for many people sunburn can be a result of misjudging the strength of the sun, resulting in a lack of adequate protection. For others, it is purely due to common misunderstandings of some facts about the sun and their skin.
“When selecting a sun cream, make sure you are using one that is right for your skin type and which has both UVA and UVB protection. Both UVA and UVB rays can cause skin cancer, however UVB is more potent than UVA in terms of causing redness or sunburn. The SPF number on your sun cream refers to the UVB protection: it is always best to use factor 50. In the UK, there is often a star rating that refers to the amount of UVA protection a product provides, with five-star protection being the best for protecting the skin against premature ageing.”
Below, Dr Glass helps demystify some myths surrounding sun exposure, helping us to enjoy the sun safely this summer.
MYTH 1: The odd sunburn won’t hurt
FACT: “Getting sunburned doesn’t mean you will definitely develop skin cancer, but getting burned – particularly when you are young – significantly increases the risk of skin cancer. For example, recent research based on almost 100,000 people showed that one sunburn between the age of 15 and 25 increased the risk of melanoma skin cancer by over 50 per cent, and four episodes of sunburn more than doubles your risk of developing melanoma. For this reason, it’s a good idea to think very carefully about taking extra measures to protect your skin, especially if you have been burned in the past.”
MYTH 2: You won’t burn in the shade
FACT: “A common error many make is believing that they cannot burn in the shade, so resort to lying under an umbrella or tree when they need a ‘break’ from the sun. However, this is far from the truth; you can burn even when in the shade, due to UV radiation reflected off nearby surfaces. It is important to understand that it is not necessarily the visible sunlight that damages your skin, but the UV radiation. Even though we cannot see or feel them, UV rays reflect off benign surfaces like sand, water and even snow, which means that you can still get burned in the shade.
“For this reason, it is always important to ensure you are well protected from the sun, even when in the shade. This means regularly reapplying a broad-spectrum sun cream, using protective clothing, and staying indoors during the hours of peak sunlight intensity. It is best to avoid deliberate tanning as that generally results in a degree of sunburn.”
MYTH 3: You can’t burn through cloud
FACT: “Not only can you burn when it’s cloudy – you might get an even worse sunburn, as it is unlikely you will realise how powerful the UV rays are. People are often a lot more relaxed about sun cream application when the weather is overcast, and the clouds are more prominent than the sun, but what they fail to realise is that 80 per cent of the sun’s rays can pass through clouds, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation. This can result in extensive diffused and reflected UV on cloudy days and cloud cover can change within hours. So, it’s important that apply your sun cream every two hours or after swimming and sport, even on cloudier days.”
MYTH 4: If you have dark skin, you don’t need sun cream
FACT: “If your skin turns brown from the sun, it’s a sign of sun damage – even if there is no redness or peeling. The change of colour is your skin’s way of protecting itself from the UV radiation in sunlight.
“Make no mistake, whether you have dark or pale skin, your skin can get damaged from the sun and you’re putting yourself at risk of skin cancer. Although less common than in Caucasian skin, melanoma can occur in black or brown skin. Since it is less common it is often detected at a later stage and can be more dangerous.
“A naturally high level of melanin pigment does of course add some protection from the sun, but it does not mean that sunburn cannot happen, especially with excessive exposure.”
MYTH 5: If you wear a high SPF, you do not need to reapply frequently
FACT: “No sun cream is 100 per cent effective, even those which claim to give you an all-day protection, so you should make sure you reapply frequently and stay out of the sun during the hottest times of the day. Spending hours baking in the sun is not good for your skin, even if you apply a high protection sun cream – the cream will only delay, not prevent, DNA damage in your skin. Wearing clothing may be an easier and also more effective method of protection than sunscreen, and it’s important to remember that using sunscreen does not allow you to spend longer in the sun, especially as most people don’t use enough.”
MYTH 6: Skin cancer won’t happen to you
FACT: “It could happen to you. Skin cancer – of which there are several different types – is the most common cancer in the UK. About one in five people will develop a skin cancer at some point in their life and the rates of skin cancers are growing in the UK.
“Skin cancers must be treated promptly by a dermatologist. If you are concerned about a mole or a lesion on your skin that is changing – be it shape or size – bleeding or itching, or just not healing, it’s always best to visit a dermatologist, as they will be able to examine your skin and advise you whether any of your skin lesions are of concern and require removal.
“At The Dermatology Clinic London, we specialise in treatment of a range of medical skin conditions, including sun protection, skin cancer diagnosis, treatment and mole monitoring.”
From Harper’s Bazaar UK