To mark Sun Awareness Week, the dangers that the sun can pose and ways that individuals and families can minimise their risk from harm are being profiled by Cumbernauld Community Health Information Hub.
Whilst most of us enjoy some sunshine, it’s extremely important to be aware that the ultraviolet (UV) radiation it exudes can cause problems such as burning, skin damage, skin cancer and heatstroke. As such, everyone should treat the sun with respect by taking necessary precautions and avoid overexposure.
Sun Awareness Week, taking place this year from 3-9 May 2021, is an annual campaign of British Association of Dermatologists which aims to educate the public about the dangers of UV radiation and encourage sun-safe habits. It occurs within World Melanoma Month, a wider global initiative which raises awareness of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.
One common misconception is that people in the UK are less at risk of skin cancer and other dangers of the sun because we see less days of sunshine per year than other parts of the world. In fact, the risk is just as significant and melanoma is the fifth month common cancer in the UK. Mary McNeil, Development Manager at Cornerstone House Centre, said:
“With the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic taking its toll on everyone over the last year and more, many people will understandably be hoping for a hot and sunny summer to brighten their lives this year.
“Sunlight can be good for us and benefit our health in a variety of ways, including increasing vitamin D, maintaining strong bones, strengthening the immune system and alleviating low mood and depression.
“However, during the summer it’s equally important for families up and down the country to be aware of the hazards of unprotected exposure to the sun, the most serious being melanoma, a form of skin cancer.
“About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85% of melanoma cases are associated with UV radiation from the sun. By sharing facts about the risks of being careless in the sun and encouraging people to check for warning signs on their skin, lives can be saved.”
Fortunately, skin cancer is one the most preventable forms of cancer. Indeed, a number of simple and straightforward measures can be taken which substantially reduce the risk of experiencing the adverse effects of the sun.
HOW CAN I PROTECT MYSELF AND MY FAMILY FROM SKIN CANCER AND OTHER DANGERS OF THE SUN?
Apply High Factor Sunscreen
Sunscreens are lotions, creams, gels or aerosols that prevent UV-induced skin damage. Active sunscreen ingredients work in two ways; by scattering and absorbing UV radiation to help stop it from reaching the skin.
Applying sunscreen before going outside is one of the most common methods of sun protection. Health experts generally recommend wearing water-resistant sunscreen that provides sun protection factor (SPF) 30 (or higher). If you are swimming outdoors, remember that water washes sunscreen off.
The higher a sunscreen’s SPF, the more UV radiation it filters out. Did you know SPF 30 sunscreen filters more than 96% of harmful rays, whilst SPF 50 blocks out 98%? High factor sunscreens must continue to be reapplied every two hours to maintain the optimum level of protection. Sunscreen should be stored below 30C and not used past its expiry date.
Spend Time In The Shade
By moving out of direct sunlight and into a shaded area, you can reduce UV exposure by up 75%. Built, natural and portable shade are all recommended for sun protection during peak UV radiation times, which are generally between 11am and 3pm in the day. Shade is one of the most effective forms of sun protection as it blocks the majority of incidental radiation.
However, sitting in the shade is not a full-proof safeguarding from the rays. It is therefore recommended to always combine shade with other forms of protection.
Cover Up With Suitable Clothing
One of the best barriers between skin and the sun is clothing. Sun protective clothing includes long trousers and collared, long-sleeved shirts which cover as much skin as possible.
Clothing can provide protection by absorbing and reflecting UV radiation that strikes the surface of the fabric. Generally speaking, light weight, closely woven and dark coloured clothing is recommended and offers the best protection against sunlight. Designs that maximise body coverage are also recommended.
Wear A Hat Which Shades Face, Ears And Neck
It is advisable to wear a hat whilst in the sun for extensive periods. A broad-brimmed hat with a brim of at least 7.5cm, which shades the face, ears and neck, can block more than 50% of UV radiation to the eyes.
Bucket hats with a brim of at least 6cm and legionnaire-style hats with a flap covering the neck are also recommended. The brim width on bucket hats for children should be suitable for the size of their head and shade their face well (minimum of 5cm as a guide). Baseball caps can also be worn, but are not as protective as they leave the ears, cheeks and back of the neck exposed.
Put Sunglasses On
Access to UV radiation over long periods can lead to serious damage to the eyes. Overexposure can cause short-term eye damage in the form of mild irritation, sunburn of the cornea, inflammation, excessive blinking and photophobia (difficulty looking at strong light).
Chronic overexposure may lead to permanent damage such as cancers on the conjunctiva, skin cancer around the eyes and eyelids, and possibly some varieties of ocular melanoma. Other long-term damage to the eyes may include cataracts, macular degeneration, an overgrowth of the conjunctiva on to the cornea and cloudiness of the cornea.
If practical, try to protect the eyes all year using sunglasses. Wearing both a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses can reduce UV radiation exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
Consider Tinted Windows
While glass thickness affects UV radiation transmission, other characteristics such as type and colour of glass should be considered. Some UV radiation is completely blocked by most types of glass, whilst other forms depend largely on the type of glass.
In vehicles, laminated glass, which is required for windshields, offers better protection than tempered glass, which is used in car rear and side windows.
Take Extra Care With Children And Infants
Children’s skin is more delicate and more sensitive to UV damage than that of adults. It has been estimated that we can get between 50% and 75% of our lifetime sun exposure before we are 18 years-old, and of course children spend a lot of time outdoors while at home, at school, on trips and on holidays.
Sunburn during childhood increases the risk of skin cancer in later life. Damage caused by overexposure can take 20 years or more to develop into skin cancer. Hence, wearing sunscreen, spending time in the shade and wearing suitable clothing and hats are all imperative to protect children.
Keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight. Their skin burns much faster than that of adults and even in the shade can be burned by reflected UV rays. Equally, do not leave babies or small children in a car for shade as they can rapidly become dangerously overheated.
The importance of keeping hydrated is heightened during periods of excessive heat and sunshine. To stay healthy, it’s essential to replace the fluid we lose when we breathe, sweat or urinate. Generally, people need between 1.5 and 2.5 litres of fluid daily. This is equivalent to about six to eight glasses of water. In hot weather, this intake needs to be increased to compensate for the increase of fluid leaving the body.
Anyone can become dehydrated but certain groups are more at risk than others, most notably babies, infants, older people and people with long-term health conditions.
Avoid Using Sunbeds
It can be tempting to top up your tan by using sunbeds, particularly when there doesn’t seem to be much sun outside. However, it is important to be aware that like the sun, sunbeds give out UV radiation, and many give out greater doses than the midday tropical sun.
The risks of sunbeds are greater for young people. Evidence shows that people who are frequently exposed to UV radiation before the age of 25 are at higher risk of developing skin cancer later in life. To this end, it is illegal for people under the age of 18 to use sunbeds in the UK.
Check Your Skin Regularly
It’s always sensible to check your skin daily for any unusual marks, moles, colouring, growths, burns or rashes, and even more so if you spend a lot of time in the sun.
The most common sign of melanoma is the appearance of a new mole or a change in an existing mole. This can happen anywhere on the body, but commonly affected areas are the back in men and the legs in women. Melanomas are uncommon in areas that are protected from sun exposure, such as the buttocks and the scalp.
In most cases, melanomas have an irregular shape and are more than one colour. The mole may also be larger than normal and can sometimes be itchy or bleed.
If you do notice anything suspicious on your skin, particularly any moles that gradually change shape, size or colour, it’s wise to see a GP or qualified dermatologist as soon as possible. Ignoring symptoms or trying to self-diagnose is not recommended under any circumstances.
Despite many of us still being separated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, people can still share the facts about the dangers of the sun with others during Sun Awareness Week and World Melonoma Month.
Furthermore, you can get behind the fight against skin cancer by donating to or volunteering with organisations such as Melanoma Action and Support Scotland, Melanoma UK, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support, Cancer Support Scotland or Maggie’s Lanarkshire, to name just a few.
People who have been diagnosed with melanoma and other skin cancers can access specific support by contacting Melonoma Action and Support Scotland on 07738 231260 (operational every day of the year from 8am-11pm) or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additional advice and information about how to keep safe in the sun can be obtained by visiting NHS’s Sunscreen and Sun Safety Web Page.