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Sun Safety

As well as giving you painful sunburn, too much sun can age your skin and increase your risk of getting skin cancer. It has been estimated that around 100,000 new cases of skin cancer occur annually in the UK. Malignant melanoma is responsible for 80% of skin cancer deaths – a huge 1,600 each year in the UK. Melanoma is now the third most common cancer in 15-39 year-olds.

Follow the SunSmart code, as recommended by Cancer Research UK:

Stay in the shade between 11am and 3pm, when the sun’s UV rays are strongest. As a general rule whenever you are outside and your shadow is shorter than your height you should take care. The shorter your shadow the stronger the sun's ultra violet rays and the more likely you are to become sunburnt.  

Make sure you never burn. Our skin burns when we stay too long in the sun. Sunburn is our body's chemical response to over-exposure to UV rays. Without protection, UV rays, which cannot be seen or felt on the skin, can penetrate deep into the skin's layers, damaging the cells. The radiation damages the material inside the nucleus of your cells that carries your genetic code, DNA.

Aim to cover up with loose clothing, a wide brimmed hat and sunglasses. Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses with proper UV filters. UV radiation can cause a variety of problems for the eyes, when buying sunglasses, make sure they carry the 'CE Mark' and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997) and offer protection at the side of the eye. Poor quality glasses can cause damage by allowing your pupils to dilate and more UV light to get in. Hats are great for protecting the face, eyes, back of the neck, and head (especially if you happen to be thin on top!).  Be aware that when clothing gets wet it stretches and allows more UV rays through to your skin. A wet t-shirt may only offer half the protection of a dry one.

Remember to take extra care with children- just one episode of sunburn before the age of 20 may double a person’s chance of developing melanoma. Babies under 6 months old should never be exposed to direct sunlight. Teaching children safe sun habits while they are young sets a good pattern for later life.

Then use a factor 15+ sunscreen. Choose a broad spectrum sun screen that blocks both UVA and UVB rays.  Apply it 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun; use generous amounts without rubbing it in too much; re-apply every 2 hours or more frequently if swimming or if washed, rubbed or sweated off; and put it on before make-up, moisturiser, insect repellent, etc. Use it to prevent burning, not to spend longer in the sun - this could put you at risk of sun damage that could lead to skin cancer.

The sun does not need to feel hot to damage our skin. The heat in the sun comes from infra-red rays, not UV rays - so you can still burn on cool days. Even in the shade or on lightly cloudy days, levels of reflected UV rays can be high. Take special care when near water or snow, as although you feel cooler the risk of burning is high, and UV rays will be reflected. Also be careful at high altitudes, as levels of UV radiation increase the higher you go.

Certain medications can increase sensitivity to the sun. About 3% of those taking doxycycline to prevent malaria will have increased sensitivity to the sun, so extra care is needed.  Skin creams containing alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) have also been shown to make skin more sensitive.

Do check your skin regularly for changes (ask someone else to check your back!) and report mole changes or unusual skin growths to your GP. Normally, moles have a smooth regular shape and are one shade / colour. Advice should be sought if a mole has a ragged outline or a mixture of different shades of brown and black. Advice should also be sought if a mole changes e.g. becomes inflamed with a reddish edge, bleeds or oozes or any other unusual skin growth appears.

Another risk from the sun is heatstroke or sunstroke. Don't do anything too energetic during the hottest part of the day, usually between 11am and 3pm, and make sure you keep yourself hydrated by drinking plenty of non-alcoholic liquids.