Wednesday 21 November 2018

Dr Ciara Kelly: Here's why cheap sunglasses are a bad idea in a heatwave

Dr Ciara Kelly
Dr Ciara Kelly
Image: Getty

Ciara Kelly

Oh summer! Could it be that this year we will actually get a summer that lasts for more than four days in a row? We don't want to jinx it but it's been looking pretty good over May and June. It would almost make you want to have a staycation and holiday at home! Almost but perhaps not quite... In fairness, there is nowhere better than Ireland - when the sun is shining. Our normally wet climate means we have all the beautiful greenery and the crystal clear water and of course the craic! An Irish summer when it's actually sunny is a thing to behold!

That all sounds lovely but not wanting to put too much of a dampener on the proceedings, there's one important difference between how we holiday abroad and how we holiday at home that I think is worth highlighting. When we hit the beaches of the Costa del Sol or the Algarve or the Canaries, we know the sun is strong. We realise that we'll get burnt and most people - apart from a few mad yokes who don't mind turning the delectable colour of rare steak and experiencing red-hot pain on their holliers - wear sunscreen. However, that's not the case when we holiday here. Perhaps it's what's rare is wonderful so we're keen to grab every bit of sunshine that comes our way when we're at home - but far fewer of us wear adequate sunscreen on sunny days in Ireland than we do abroad - and that creates a real issue for our skin.

The thing is I know we Irish long for gorgeous olive skin that tans beautifully but the truth is we have very pale skin - often with freckles - so we burn, and we burn very easily. And sunburn is, of course, the major risk factor for skin cancer. We want to believe that we are a little bit Latin, when in reality we are more like Tintin, and rather Snowy in complexion. The surprising truth is we get sunburnt more often at home than we do abroad. Now that's clearly not because it's sunnier here than it is abroad - it's because we don't take the Irish sun seriously.

Some 40,000 of us will get cancer here in Ireland over the coming year and the commonest cancer we'll get is skin cancer. We have, in fact, one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the whole world despite our watery sunshine and our 362 days of rain. And a lot of that is down to foolhardiness and a lack of sun protection.

When I was young, sunscreen was barely a thing we'd even heard of and when we were first introduced to it, we used ridiculously low factors like two, four or six - "to get a base". All those early episodes of sunburn have left us at significant risk of developing skin cancers now as we age and may well come back to haunt us.

We now realise, I hope, that Irish skin is in no way compatible with low sun protection, and wearing adequate sunscreen with a factor of 30 or above is the best way to protect your skin from sunburn. But the truth is that even getting a tan without any burn means your skin is being exposed to harmful rays and you are at increased risk.

On a summer like this, when many people will consider staying home because we appear to be getting some decent weather, I worry that we will see an even bigger spike in skin cancers than usual. Many skin cancers are relatively benign but some, like malignant melanoma, can sadly prove to be fatal.

This summer whether you're at home or abroad, it's vital that you slap on the sunscreen. Make sure it's factor 30 or above to protect yourself against the very prevalent skin cancer. The shoulders, the tips of the ears, noses and the tops of bald heads are particularly vulnerable. So if you're a bit thin on top, wear a hat as well.

Cheap sunglasses can also be a problem, and sadly I have seen several cases of retinal melanoma over the past few years - a cancer you really don't want to get. So good UV protection in your sunscreen and your sunglasses is really important.

Covering up as appropriate will protect you against skin cancer - so even if you're at home pretending you're abroad, please do take the precautions.

Enjoy the sunshine!

@ciarakellydoc

Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk, weekdays 12-2

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