Stay safe in the sun

29 June 2018

Eight out of 10 of us do not apply sunscreen properly before going outdoors. With skin cancer one of the most common cancers in the south east, what are we doing wrong and why? Dr Sandeep Cliff, Consultant Dermatologist, has the answers and advice on how to be safe in the sun.

In the past year, I have seen a substantial increase in the number of patients with sun-damaged skin and early signs of melanoma (skin cancer) An extra three people a week are coming to my clinics compared with 12 months ago. It is so frustrating as the risk of skin cancer can be greatly reduced if people avoid getting sunburnt and protect their skin when the sun is at its most intense.

There are several reasons why we are not helping ourselves. Firstly, we are under the false illusion that the UK sun is not that hot.  But the weekend before last (7-8 May) the sun in the south east of England was just as intense as it was in Ibiza or California.

People also getting a tan, it makes them feel good. However, the mistake they make is to try and tan quickly the moment their skin is exposed to sun after a winter of being undercover. This can lead to sun burn which increases their risk of skin cancer.

There are also cost concerns – sun cream is not cheap, so people tend to be economical when they apply it and therefore do not cover their skin adequately.

Men, in particular, are the biggest culprits for not applying sunblock. If they have a partner, they are more likely to use it, but men rarely carry a tube of sun cream with them if they are outdoors on their own. Companies with outdoor workers, such as building contractors and gardeners, now have to advise their employees to wear sun cream by law, but invariably workers fail to use it because it makes their hands slippery or they sweat it off and fail to reapply it.

If there was a non-greasy, long-lasting, high protection factor cream on the market that could be applied easily, and was not too expensive, then that would be ideal. But it is also important to follow these rules: 

Sun protection tips:

  • Choose a sun cream that has a high SPF value, Factor 20 or more. Some brands sell sample sizes so shop around until you find one that suits you.
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin but do not rub in completely. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling in order to maintain protection.
  • If you are going to be outdoors for a long period of time (perhaps you are a construction worker or gardener) try a brand like P20 that lasts for longer. However, be prepared to reapply if you sweat a lot during the day.
  • Sun creams have a sell by date so throw out old bottles and start the summer with a fresh purchase.
  • Spend time in the shade when the sun is at its strongest - between 11am and 3pm in the summer months.
  • Avoid direct sun exposure for babies and very young children.
  • When it is not possible to stay out of the sun, keeping yourself well covered, with a hat, T-shirt, and sunglasses for additional protection.


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