Love it or hate it, the summer sunshine isn’t showing signs of going away for good! While the heatwave of June and July has abated, the Met Office predicts that warmer-than-average temperatures could last well until October, with below-average rainfall. With many of us jetting off to even hotter countries and the busy British bank holiday weekend just around the corner, here’s how to look after your skin in the sun.
According to the British Skin Foundation, skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in the UK - and rates are rising. At least 100,000 new cases are diagnosed each year and seven people die every day from the disease. People with pale, white or light brown skin, freckles, red or fair hair or a number of moles are more susceptible to skin cancer, as are those with a family history. If you tend to burn rather than tan, you are more prone too.
Signs of skin cancer
Skin cancer can appear in a number of forms, usually on exposed areas of the body such as the face and neck, but it can develop elsewhere too. It can be painless and growths can develop slowly, so it’s important to be vigilant for anything new. Lumps can be smooth and pearly or red and firm, and may crust or scab over or start to bleed or itch. They can also fail to heal or develop into painless ulcers.
Skin cancer occurs due to overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. There are two types; malignant melanoma, which is the most dangerous type and has quadrupled in the last 30 years, and non-melanoma. However, the sun also has positive effects on us, such as boosting our vitamin D levels, which is good for our bones and teeth, helps our immune system and is also thought to be linked to mood. So, in the current warm spell, it’s a matter of achieving the right balance between soaking up the sun’s benefits whilst taking good care of our skin. Here’s how!
Using the right sun cream
Anyone else old enough to remember Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (to Wear Sunscreen)? Yes, folks, it’s the best thing you can do for your skin - as backed up by Luhrmann’s fellow Australian Hugh Jackman, who has been treated several times for basal cell carcinoma and regularly urges his social media followers to apply sun cream.
Look for a high sun protection factor - the SPF - which is a measure of the amount of ultraviolet B radiation (UVB) cover the cream gives, and apply it 20 to 30 minutes before going into the sun, to give your skin time to absorb it. Don’t forget your neck and the tips of your ears! Re-apply every two hours and as soon as you’re out of water - even if the cream claims to be water-resistant.
While it’s tempting to lounge by the pool all day in your bikini or shorts, the best defence against sun damage is wearing clothing in tight-weave fabrics that won’t let the sun’s rays in. NHS sun safety advice includes wearing a long-sleeved top and a wide-brimmed hat that covers your neck and ears. Don’t forget those UV-protective sunglasses, with the CE mark or European Standard EN 1836:2005.
Timing it right
In the UK, the sun is at its hottest between 11am and 3pm, so try to avoid being in full sun between these times, especially with small children. Think about doing activities indoors during these hours, enjoying the sunshine once it’s past its peak later on. Note that the sun can be very strong in the middle of the day even in March, April, September and October!
Sadly, there is no ‘safe’ way to tan. Sunbeds also give out UV light and, according to Tenovus Cancer Care, UV emissions from a tanning bed can be the same as from the midday sun, whilst using sunbeds for the first time before you’re 35 increases the risk of malignant melanoma by a staggering 75%. Advice from the Health and Safety Executive on using tanning equipment such as beds, lamps and booths can be found on the NHS website.
If you’re struggling to cope in the warm weather generally, make sure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty, staying indoors and closing curtains or blinds when the sun is at its hottest. And if pollen allergies are making your life a misery at this time of year, read our top tips on combating hay fever.
Cancer tests, drugs and therapies are just some of the things covered by health insurance, depending on the cover you take out. Find out more by using our online comparison tool or speaking to our advisers on 0800 862 0373.