Staying Safe in the Sun

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With summer just around the corner and temperatures set to soar, many of us will be making plans to escape our daily routines and enjoy some downtime in the sun. Whether you’re holidaying here in the UK or jetting off abroad, it’s important to remember the risks of exposure to UV rays so you can protect yourself and enjoy summer with peace of mind.

Whilst the sun is considered to have many positive effects including mental health benefits and helping your body produce vitamin D, many of us forget the risks of sun exposure when we’re out enjoying the warm weather. Despite the pressure that many feel to get that golden glow, it’s important to remember that there is no safe way of getting a suntan. After all, it can take just 15 minutes of exposure to UV rays to damage your skin, even in the UK and even when it’s cloudy…

Despite melanoma skin cancer being one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK (15,906 new cases in 2015), sun safety is often overlooked. According to the latest skin cancer statistics from Cancer Research UK, 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable.

How can I protect myself from sun damage?

  • Sunscreen – The NHS recommends that sunscreen of at least factor 15 and four-star UVA protection should be worn and regularly topped up throughout the day to avoid sun damage. The higher SPF the better. It is recommended that all children and high risk groups (as discussed below) should wear factor 50 sunscreen. Make sure you keep your sunscreen in a cool dry place and always check the expiry date.
  • Protective clothing – Choose light, closely woven clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible without making you overheat.
  • Hats – Wearing protective headwear such as a sunhat or a cap is an effective way of protecting against sun damage on your face and scalp and helps to prevent sunstroke caused by direct sunlight on your head.
  • Sunglasses – Sunglasses are a vital summer accessory that everyone should own. We recommend a pair with the highest UV protection possible, ideally with wraparound lenses. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the UV 400 label!

Although skin cancer can affect everyone, there are people who will need more protection than others. For example, if you have pale skin, freckles or red hair, a tendency to burn, a large number of moles or if you’re in a country with particularly intense heat — you should take extra care. The NHS recommends that you spend time in the shade during the sun’s strongest hours, between 11am-3pm.

How can I examine myself for signs of abnormality?

It’s important to be familiar with your moles, freckles or any other markings like birthmarks and look out for any unusual features or changes. Although it’s recommended that you perform a skin examination once a year, many people don’t actually know what it is they’re looking for. The ‘ABCDE’ rule is useful to help you to remember what to look for:

  • Asymmetrical — is your mole an odd, uneven shape?
  • Border — are there visible borders that appear irregular or vague?
  • Colour — does your mole appear uneven in colour or multi-coloured?
  • Diameter — is your mole larger than a pencil eraser and is it growing?
  • Evolution — is your mole changing over time?

If any of your moles fit these criteria or you are worried about them, please consult your GP.

How can I treat my sunburn?

If you or someone you know is suffering with sunburn, ensure that you tend to the burnt area with cool water and cover it with after-sun cream, aloe vera gel or calamine lotion. It’s also important to stay hydrated and drink more water than usual to avoid sunstroke. Sunburn means you need to increase your level of protection to avoid it happening again in the future, so make sure you wear a higher factor sunscreen and wear loose-fitting cotton clothing to cover the affected area. If it is particularly painful and swells or blisters, make sure you consult your doctor and stay out of the sun.

To read the NHS sun safety guidelines, head over to their website. If you are a member of a Health Shield Health Cash Plan, you could have access to our cancer screening benefit which includes a skin check from a health professional. If you want to get peace of mind, why not look over the terms of your plan to check if you are covered? This service can also provide additional awareness and education, access to specialist consultation and private clinics nationwide. Remember to enjoy the sun safely this summer!