It’s Sun Awareness Week (May 9-15) yet despite decades of national health messages, people living in the south have the highest incidence of skin cancer. What are we doing wrong? Dr Paul Farrant, consultant dermatologist at The Montefiore Hospital in Hove, has some answers.
I think we need to take our cue from the French and Spanish when it comes to being out in the sun. When it’s lunchtime, they disappear off the beaches to find shade, often leaving the Brits to soak up the rays.
We need to realise that the sun is at its most harmful between midday and 3pm during the summer months, whether you are in England or on the Costa del Sol. So, if you are sitting on Brighton beach at lunchtime, you are putting yourself at the risk of skin cancer if you don’t cover up with a long-sleeved shirt or find some shade to sit in.
And we are not applying sun cream properly. A recent survey by the British Association of Dermatologists shows eight out of ten people are failing to adequately apply sunscreen before going out in the sun. Around two-thirds of people also fail to reapply sunscreen every two hours as recommended.
My team and I see around 120 people a week who have been referred to us because their GP suspects skin cancer, and every year we treat around 200 cases of melanoma – a type of skin cancer that can spread to other organs of the body and even kill. But you can reduce your risks and still have fun in the sun:
- The best way to make sure you get adequate coverage of sun cream is to apply it indoors before you head to the beach or outside. Use a mirror, or a member of the family, to check you have not missed any areas.
- Be generous – most people put on a third to half of the recommended amount to achieve the sun protection factor (SPF) stated on the bottle. They then have false reassurance that they are protected from harmful sun rays. Apply a layer, let it dry and then apply another on top. Do this before you go out and then reapply every few hours or after swimming.
- Look for a sunscreen that offers both UVA and UVB protection. A sunscreen with an SPF of 30 and a UVA rating of 4 or 5 stars is a good standard of sun protection in addition to shade and clothing.
- Clothing as sun protection is often underestimated. People that work outdoors, eg gardeners, builders, roofers or people with outdoor hobbies, are particularly vulnerable and need to keep their shirts on! As well as applying sun cream, pulling on a long-sleeved shirt with a close weave when it gets to midday will reduce the risk of skin cancer in later life. UV suits for children are excellent for protecting young skin. And if you are bald or have thin hair don’t forget to wear a sunhat.
- Check your skin thoroughly at least every few months. See your GP if any moles have changed or you notice black, ugly-looking irregular-shaped moles. The majority of skin cancer can be surgically removed if caught early.
Dr Paul Farrant, holds a clinic on Wednesday afternoons and evenings at The Montefiore Hospital, Montefiore Road, Hove. Visit www.themontefiorehospital.co.uk or for a non-obligation enquiry, phone 01273 828 148.
First published in Brighton and Hove Independent on Friday 12th May 2017.
The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.