Dear doctor, what can I do to prevent the risk of skin cancer while enjoying the sun?

29 August 2017

Q: I’m going away for some sun next month but all the warnings about skin cancer on the news are starting to scare me. What can I do to prevent the risk of skin cancer while enjoying the sun?

A: As a dermatologist, I would recommend taking good care whilst in the sun abroad or in the UK. The skin (and moles) can be damaged in different ways, not only by sun burning but also by the love of a lifelong baseline tan.

Skin cancer is common and accounts for up to 70% of a dermatologist’s work in clinic these days, with rates expected to increase by 2024. Skin cancer diagnosed and treated early is far safer than a problem that has been ignored and allowed to get worse. Anything on the skin that is new (lasting over a few weeks) or an old skin lesion that is changing which you are unsure about may need to be checked out.

You’re at a higher risk of developing skin cancer if you have fair skin and a tendency to burn. Family history of skin cancer, increased sun exposure due to hobbies or jobs or sunbed use also increases the risks.

Sunbeds are highly variable and ANY higher levels of ultraviolet (UV) rays remain particularly dangerous. A baseline tan may reduce burning but is still damaging to the skin. All EU sunscreens are tested and any offering factor 30+ SPF (UVB) and good to high UVA protection (should always be labelled) applied as directed is ideal.

I generally recommend higher factors as we know most people don't apply them as thickly (or as regularly) as directed on the bottle so the actual protection level you get from them is a lot less than the 30 written on the tube.

For vitamin D you only require a low level of sun exposure when the sun is weaker (early or later in the day) a few times a week, so not enough to be turning you into a prune!

Fake tans fool me all the time in clinic so if you like a bit of colour consider these instead. Beware though as they do not protect you from the sun.

Dr Hywel Cooper is a Consultant Dermatologist practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital.


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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