Staying Safe in the Sun

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Summer is just around the corner and now that the weather is starting to pick up, we’re all taking advantage of the blue skies and warmer climates. Not to mention, it’s likely to be the time of year you to jump on that plane and escape your daily routine to your summer holiday.

But whilst it’s fun and relaxing to be in the sun, let’s not forget that we must remain wise to the damage it can do if you are not properly protected, after all, it takes just 15 minutes of exposure for UV rays to damage your skin. There is no safe way of getting a suntan despite the pressure many people feel to have that ‘golden glow’. Sunburn can still occur in the UK and can even occur when it’s cloudy. You must always be vigilant.

The sun has such a positive effect on people’s moods and outlook on life, the summer months are happier months with the sun shining. However, even with skin cancer being the most common form of cancer in the UK (over 100,000 new cases and 2,500 deaths a year), sun safety is often overlooked, especially whilst we are younger. Anyone is at risk of developing it so the sooner you take care of yourself the better.

How can I protect myself?

It’s simple — clothing and sunscreen. These are key to ensuring that you protect your skin as best you can. Your clothing, hat and sunglasses are the first line of defence against the sun and even if you don’t like to wear long trousers and long sleeves on hot summer days, always choose clothing that is closely woven — you can check this by holding it up to the light to see how much light gets through.

The next step is sunscreen. When you head out to purchase your next bottle, ensure that you choose one that has a high SPF (sun protection factor). This refers to the level of protection against UVB (which is linked to skin cancer) and UVA (which is associated with skin aging), so look for at least four or five stars. Always remember to apply generously 30 minutes before exposure, then again every 1-2 hours or more if needed.

Whilst you’re on holiday you’ll probably be doing a lot of swimming and getting in and out of the hotel pool, but remember that even waterproof sunscreens need reapplying and once-a-day creams should also be reapplied to ensure that you haven’t missed any little parts of your body and left them open to exposure. Once you’ve towelled down after swimming, this is when your sunscreen should be reapplied. Even sweating can remove sunscreen, so even if you haven’t been in a pool, make sure to top up your sunscreen throughout the day to ensure maximum protection.

There are also 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 — please take extra care. You could perhaps seek additional shade under trees or an umbrella and also remember to try and stay out of the sun during its most intense hours 11am to 3pm. Whatever you’d like to do, always take precautions.

How do I notice any changes?

It is recommended that you perform a skin examination once a year, but what are you looking for? It’s a rule known as ABCDE. You’ll need to be familiar with the normal pattern of your moles, freckles or any other markings like birthmarks and look out for any unusual features or changes.

  • Asymmetrical — check your mole isn’t an odd shape
  • Border — are there visible borders that appear irregular or vague?
  • Colour — is your mole uneven in colour or appear multi-coloured?
  • Diameter — you’ll need to check if it is larger than a pencil eraser and whether it is growing
  • Evolution — is your mole changing over time?

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

What other precautions can I take?

Sunglasses — a vital summer accessory that everyone should own. However, you must make sure they give you 100% UV protection, or as close as possible, and have a ‘wraparound’ lenses. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the UV 400 label!

Choose a wide-brimmed hat that covers your face and neck where possible.

Store your sunscreen in a cool dry place. Keeping it in hot places can have a detrimental effect on its protective chemicals. Also ensure you check the expiry date. Sunscreens normally have a two to three year life span so ensure it has not expired before use.

How does the sun affect my children?

You should always try to keep babies under six months old out of direct sunlight. Ensure their entire body (including their face and feet) is kept out of any sunlight and use hats and stroller umbrellas/hoods to protect their faces and heads.

Older children need to be active and as long as they are covered up, then being outside is great for them and outdoor play is vital to their growth. It’s always a good idea to encourage sunscreen application as part of their morning routine and to avoid being in the sun during the peak hours of 11am to 3pm if possible.

I’ve suffered sunburn what do I do? Does this mean I’m going to get skin cancer?

No, it doesn’t mean that at all. Anyone who suffers with sunburn may be at an increased risk but this does not mean that you will get skin cancer by any means.

Ensure you sponge down the sunburnt area with cool water and cover it with after-sun cream, aloe vera gel or calamine lotion. Sunburn also means you need to increase your level of protection to avoid it happening again in the future. If it is particularly bad and swells or blisters please consult your doctor and stay out of the sun.

So whilst the sun is shining and the weather is warm, enjoy that family BBQ safely and have fun on your family holiday with the peace of mind that you’ve done all you can to protect the health of your own and your family’s skin now and in the future.

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. So if you are worried, or want to have a safety check, look over the terms of your plan in our Members’ Area to check if you are covered. This service can also provide additional awareness and education, access to specialists and private clinics nationwide.