What a summer we’ve been having lately, and no doubt many of us have been encouraged to spend longer outside because of it. But with all that extra sunshine fun comes the need to protect our skin from the harmful effects of its rays. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight is known to damage skin cell DNA, increasing our chances of developing skin cancer.
Firstly, it is important to understand there are two main types of UV radiation. If unprotected, UVA rays can reach the deepest layer of the skin, causing long-term damage such as premature ageing and wrinkling. UVB rays affect the upper surface of the skin, so they create a tan but are also responsible for sun burns and aiding the development of skin cancer.
The proven link between sun exposure and melanoma is widely accepted but Cancer Research UK has found that more than 80 per cent of skin cancer cases are preventable. Burning just once every two years can triple your risk of skin cancer. These figures imply that while we are aware our skin needs protecting we may not know how best to go about it.
How protective a sunscreen is can be determined by two things; the sun protection factor (SPF) and the UV star system. SPF is a measure of how well the skin is protected from UVB rays in particular while the UV star system relates to how much UVA is absorbed by the sunscreen.
The SPF number reflects how long you can stay in the sun without getting burned. For instance, if SPF 15 is applied, this would allow you to stay in the sun 15 times longer before getting burned. However, the majority of people don’t use enough sunscreen and so do not get this full protection.
The Skin Cancer Foundation recommends the minimum amount that should be applied to exposed areas of the body is approximately 30g (a shot glass-full) for an average adult. This should be adjusted depending on body size and the area of skin exposed and should be reapplied within two hours regardless of strength.
This recommendation also applies to sunscreens labelled as ‘once-a-day’, it’s not advisable to rely on one application for an extended period of time as they get rubbed off by clothes, towels and any furniture you might sit on.
The UV star system
With reference to the UV star system, the focus on UVA differs from the SPF which relates solely to protection from UVB rays. If a sunscreen has a low UV star rating it means there is minimum protection from UVA rays. Since both types of UV radiation can cause damage it is important to choose sunscreens with a high UV star rating in addition to a high SPF to ensure the skin is sufficiently protected. Sunscreens that protect from both UVA and UVB rays are often referred to as broad-spectrum and are preferable.
SPF in moisturiser
Moisturisers with SPF provide less sun protection than their sun cream counter parts. The coverage an SPF moisturiser provides is simply not as heavy-duty, and though using a moisturiser with SPF 15 or 20 is better than using nothing at all, for prolonged periods of sun exposure it’s recommended that a sunscreen with a factor of at least 15, and a UVA star rating of at least four, is applied to the face.
Avoid - as much as you can – working outside during the hottest and sunniest parts of the day 10am-4pm. Find a nice shady spot for breaks. Wear long-sleeved clothing to shade your skin from the harmful rays, not forgetting the sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat. Use sunscreen on unprotected skin and reapply every couple of hours especially if you are sweating a lot, be sure to not miss the back of your neck, ears, hands and lips. 90% of skin cancers occur on parts of the body usually not covered by clothing; the face, hands, forearms and ears.
Check your moles
Check your skin regularly for any unusual moles or spots. Get an appointment quickly to see your doctor if you find any that may have changed in shape, size or colour or are itching or bleeding.
When it comes to our health, prevention is far better than cure!