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Beware of cloudy days and other things you need to know to protect your skin

In this summer of staycations, we need to look after our skin. Plastic surgeon Yasmin Ismail gives us 10 great tips to stay safe outdoors

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Skin cancer cases are expected to double in Ireland by 2040, so it’s vital that we use protection

Skin cancer cases are expected to double in Ireland by 2040, so it’s vital that we use protection

Yasmin Ismail

Yasmin Ismail

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Skin cancer cases are expected to double in Ireland by 2040, so it’s vital that we use protection

As Covid restrictions ease, the days getting longer and the sun shining, many of us are spending more time outdoors. Most people living in Ireland have a skin type that can burn easily and tan poorly, so we are particularly at risk from too much sun exposure. This can result in sun damage leading to skin cancer or precancerous changes in the skin.

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland with over 13,000 cases diagnosed every year. This is expected to double by 2040. We are also seeing more people with skin cancer presenting at a younger age, which is quite worrying. So, whether your staycation will be spent on the balcony, back garden or beach, it is vital you take care of your skin.

1. Check the label for an SPF of at least 30

There are many different types of rays in sunlight but those that are most damaging to our skin are called ultraviolet rays (UVR) and specifically ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). When choosing a sunscreen from the array of choices in your local pharmacy or shop, it is important you choose one that has good protection from both these rays.

This means an SPF of at least 30 (preferably 50) to protect from UVB rays and UVA protection of at least four stars. These sunscreens are classed as broad spectrum. UVB rays burn the skin while UVA rays cause damage and aging. So remember, protecting yourself can be great for your skin in the long run too.

2. Children need higher protection

Children have skin that is more sensitive than that of adults so they need a higher lever of protection. This means an SPF of 50+ should be applied regularly and liberally. Babies under the age of six months should be kept in the shade away from direct sunlight.

3. Apply lots of sunscreen and often

You should apply sunscreen liberally to your body and face about 20 minutes before going out in the sun. Don’t forget a top-up at least every few hours, even if the label promises longer protection. Remember, sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.

4. Reapply if you sweat or the sunscreen rubs off

If you are swimming, exercising, sweating or towel drying, make sure to reapply the sunscreen more often to keep yourself safe. When it comes to sunscreen, less is definitely not more.

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Yasmin Ismail

Yasmin Ismail

Yasmin Ismail

5. Don’t forget those cloudy days

We often think we are only at risk of burning or sun damage when it is really sunny outside. However, the reality is that 80pc of UV rays can get through the clouds so we need to wear sunscreen on those dull and overcast days. Try to get into the habit of doing this every day and all year round.

6. Sunscreen is not a suit of armour

While sunscreen is great protection, it is unfortunately not enough to keep us completely safe. We can’t forget to wear loose cotton clothing to cover the skin of the body and a wide-brimmed hat that will help to keep the sun away from the face, back of the neck and ears. These are really sensitive areas that can burn easily. The eyes are also at risk of damage so make sure to wear sunglasses with good built in UV protection.

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7. Clothes, sunglasses and hats are also vital for children

Our children should also be protected with wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and loose clothes. It is often easy to forget certain areas like the scalp or miss others with sunscreen even when applied liberally, so these other types of protection are important for children as they have such sensitive skin.

8. Shade can be your saviour

All of the protective measures are essential, but the best way to keep safe is to find some shade, particularly between 11am and 4pm when the sun is strongest. This applies to children and adults.

9. Take proper care of sun burns

If you do get sunburn, it is important to get out of the sun as soon as possible and cool the skin with a cold shower, bath or damp towel. This will also help to relieve the pain. You should apply aftersun cream or spray such as aloe vera to soothe the skin and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.

If needed, you can take a painkiller or over-the-counter antihistamine to relieve the symptoms of pain and itch. Speak to your pharmacist about this. And critically, take extra care to cover sunburned skin from direct sunlight until it has fully healed.

10. Look out for changes on the skin

So now that we know how to keep safe, we should also be sure we know how to check ourselves for any worrying signs of skin cancer. There are different types of skin cancer, but the most common all start in the upper layers of the skin and result from sun exposure and sunburns from childhood or early adulthood.

Remember, many occupations including farming, fishing, and construction put you at risk of exposure, as do some hobbies such as gardening or golf. It is important to look out for crusty patches, ulcers, sores or lumps over the skin which fail to heal.

Similarly, changes in moles or new moles warrant attention and this can come in the form of change in colour, size and shape. You may notice symptoms such as itching, bleeding or pain. Also, get in the habit of checking yourself regularly.

The best thing you can do if you notice any changes is to see your GP. They may arrange a biopsy or refer you to a specialist and if you are diagnosed, there are a variety of treatments, including surgery. While protection is always better than treatment, time is of the essence as over 90pc of skin cancers are curable if diagnosed early. Early treatment can also be life saving.

Yasmin Ismail is a consultant at the Beacon Hospital 


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