Sunlight is essential for the production of Vitamin D, which helps to keep our muscles, bones and teeth healthy. However, there’s no need to spend hours in the sunshine. Short periods with exposed forearms, hands or lower legs are long enough.
Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK, and the most serious of all three skin cancers. Every time we tan – even if it’s going out unprotected on a cloudy day – we increase our risk.
Sun protection tips
Help is at hand. York Against Cancer is committed to the early detection of skin cancer symptoms, having funded lifesaving dermatoscopes for the Vale of York area. To stay safe in the sun , keep these sun protection tips in mind.
Wear sunscreen – even on cloudy days
The great British summer is anything but predictable, and it can be tempting to go out without covering up on cloudy days. However, UV radiation can still damage our skin. Keep in mind the two key types of UV light, which are both present in the sun’s rays:
Ultraviolet A (UVA) – this has a longer wavelength, and contributes to skin ageing.
Ultraviolet B (UVB) – this has a shorter wavelength, and contributes to sunburn.
UVA rays can penetrate cloud cover and even glass. What’s more, if you’re in water, on the sand or in a snowy area, these rays are more likely to be reflected and cause skin damage. Choose a sun cream with a sun protection factor of at least 30, and make sure it protects against both types of rays.
Check the weather in advance
Ideally, you should stay out of the sun between the hours of 11am and 3pm. This is when the sun’s rays are at their shortest, leaving you at greater risk of exposure.
A good tactic is to try the ‘shadow rule’. When standing out in the sun, look at your shadow. If it’s shorter than your actual height, this means that the sun’s rays are strong, so take extra care.
You can also prepare in advance using the Met Office’s UV index forecast. This is a scale from 1-11 which tells you how high-risk the sun will be in a particular place on any given day.
Dress for the weather
Try to cover as much skin as possible with lightly coloured, breathable clothing. This is especially important for toddlers and young children.
Wear t-shirts to cover high-risk areas like the shoulders, and try a wide-brimmed hat to cover the head, face, ears and neck. Don’t forget – baseball caps will not protect the neck or ears.
Opt for sunglasses with added UV protection, as these can prevent cataracts and macular degeneration.
Tanning salons may assure their customers that they need a certain amount of Vitamin D to stay healthy. However, this does not need to come from harmful artificial rays. We need short sun exposure and can supplement our diets with oily fish, cheese, eggs, soy milk and cereals.
Understand your skin type
Nobody is immune to sun damage, but some of us run a higher risk than others. The Fitzpatrick scale helps us to identify our skin type based on pigment and our skin reactions. There are six types:
Type 1: ivory skin, light eyes and red or blond hair. Skin freckles, burns and peels – never tans.
Type 2: fair skin, blue, grey or green eyes and blond hair. Skin rarely tans, reacting like type 1.
Type 3: fair/beige skin, hazel or brown eyes and hair. Skin may freckle, burn or tan.
Type 4: olive/light brown skin, dark brown eyes and hair. Skin doesn’t freckle, and tans often.
Type 5: dark brown skin and eyes, dark brown or black hair. Skin doesn’t burn or freckle.
Type 6: deeply pigmented brown skin, dark eyes and hair. Skin never burns but tans darkly.
Types 1 and 2 are highest risk, and should have annual doctor visits as well as personal checks. Types 3 to 6 are lower risk, but crucially, those of African American descent may not be diagnosed until later on in life. They should wear at least factor 15 and get regular checks.
Getting checked out
You should always keep an eye on your skin and monitor any changes. You can find a wealth of resources here, or use apps such as SkinVision to perform self-check-ups. (Note this does not replace doctors’ advice, but may help to track changes. Always see a doctor if you’re unsure.)
One of the best ways to detect skin changes is to examine moles. These may be flat, raised, with or without hair, or darker during pregnancy. But they could also indicate melanoma.
If you're in doubt...
Use the ABCDE guide:
Has the mole changed shape on different sides?
Has the mole’s border become irregular or blurred?
Does the mole have varying shades of black, brown and/or pink?
Has the mole changed size, or does it exceed 6mm in diameter?
If in doubt, always contact a GP or dermatologist.
How York Against Cancer is helping
Over the last few years we have committed to the national fight against skin cancer by funding crucial dermatoscopes for GPs. These hand-held devices allow GPs to take electronic photographs of patients’ moles before referring them to specialists.
Local GP Dr Dan Cottingham said: “Dermatoscopes have helped us to develop a local life-saving project that has already improved waiting times for suspected skin cancer referrals.” When detected early, the five-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent.
So far, we have invested £40,000 into the project, which has funded 57 dermatoscopes across the Vale of York. We’ve also partnered with local businesses such as Tancream, whose fake tan formula offers SPF. After almost losing her life to melanoma, founder Gillian Robson created the product, which is now helping to fund the equipment.
Contact us if you need help
If you’re concerned about skin cancer for you or a family member, contact your G.P. Remember you can enjoy the sun but stay safe by restricting the time you’re out in the sun, cover up and wear sunscreen!
Need to contact us?
Call us on 01904 764 466 or email email@example.com and one of our friendly team will be happy to help.