Stay safe in the sun

We all enjoy being out in the sunshine. It’s good for us. As well as being a great mood booster, the sun gives us Vitamin D, which helps to support our immune system.

But too much sun, without protection, damages the skin and can lead to serious health problems. Unfortunately, there’s no safe way to get a tan as Tony Albanese, our Health, Safety and Wellbeing Advisor, found out. Here he shares his experience of skin cancer and offers some advice for keeping safe in the this summer.

“I remember getting sun burnt quite badly as a child. I was always playing out and didn’t even think about sun protection. In my 20s I joined a gym and would use the sunbed a couple of times a week. Back then, there wasn’t as much advice about the dangers of sunbeds as there is today. And, anyway, as a young lad I had the ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude.

As the years went on I’d always been aware of a few moles on my back, but I never really monitored them. One day my wife noticed that one of my moles had changed colour slightly, so she made an appointment for me to see a doctor. I was referred to a dermatologist who removed the mole to examine it. I was then told that the mole was a malignant melanoma – skin cancer.

I was really shocked and had to break the news to my wife who was devastated. Fortunately, because it was caught early and the depth of the melanoma was less than a millimetre, the likelihood of it spreading to my lymph nodes was low. I had further surgery to remove skin from around the mole and was left with a three-inch scar but that didn’t bother me. I then had check-ups with the nurse for 12 months before finally being discharged.

I was lucky, and very grateful to my wife for spotting the change in the mole and insisting I got it checked. If I’d been more careful in the sun and stayed off the sunbeds, I’m sure it wouldn’t have got to that. I’m now very careful and follow the advice below. I hope you will too.”

Sun safety tips

Sunburn doesn’t just happen on holiday. You can burn in the UK, even when it's cloudy. Make sure you:

Spend time in the shade when the sun is strongest, usually between 11am and 3pm in the UK

Choose a sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 to avoid burning – use SPF 50 on children

Check the star rating (which protects from ultraviolet A radiation) and go for a rating of four or more

Check the use by date on the sunscreen – most have a shelf life of two to three years

Apply your sunscreen 30 minutes before going into the sun and keep topping up if you’re in the sun all day

Use water-resistant sunscreen if you’re swimming

Wear clothes and sunglasses that provide sun protection, such as a wide-brimmed hat, long-sleeved top and sunglasses with the CE Mark and British Standard Mark 12312-1:2013 E.

Take extra care to protect babies and children. Their skin is much more sensitive than adult skin. Damage caused by repeated exposure to sunlight could lead to skin cancer developing in later life.

Those of you with fair skin, freckles or red hair should take extra care in the sun. The same advice is given to those who tend to burn rather than tan, have many moles or have skin problems.

The Cancer Research UK website has a tool where you can find out your skin type and your risk of burning.

Four steps for easing sunburn

One: Sponge sore skin with cool water, then apply soothing aftersun cream or spray, like aloe vera.

Two: You might want to take paracetamol (follow guidelines on the packet) to ease the pain of inflammation caused by sunburn.

Three: Stay out of the sun until all signs of redness have gone, or make sure your sunburn is well covered.

Four: Seek medical help if you feel unwell or the skin swells badly or blisters.

Protect your moles

Keep an eye out for changes to your skin. Changes to check for include:

• a new mole, growth or lump • any moles, freckles or patches of skin that change in size, shape or colour

Report these to your doctor as soon as possible. Skin cancer is much easier to treat if it's found early.

Take care if using sunbeds

The British Association of Dermatologists advises that people should not use sunbeds or sunlamps. They can be more dangerous than natural sunlight because they emit a more concentrated source of UV radiation. Health risks linked to sunbeds and other UV tanning equipment include:

  • skin cancer
  • premature skin ageing
  • sunburnt skin
  • eye irritation.

Remember: Aim to strike a balance between enjoying the sun and protecting yourself from skin cancer.

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