Friday 19 January 2018

Don't feel the burn: 15 ways to be sun smart

Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Ireland. Here, Dr Patrick Ormond, consultant dermatologist at St James's Hospital, outlines 15 steps to prevent the disease

Sun protection
Sun protection

With 10,000 new cases of skin cancer diagnosed in 2013, the National Cancer Registry of Ireland (NCRI) expects this number to double by 2040. Read on to find out how to protect yourself...

1 Use SPF 30 with both UVA and UVB protection

A few years ago, choosing a good sunscreen meant you just looked for a high sun protection factor (SPF), which refers to the blockage of UVB rays only. However, we now know that ultraviolet A rays (UVA) also increase skin cancer risk, so you need to look for a sunscreen that blocks these as well. Look for a broad-spectrum sunscreen that has:

- SPF 30 (UVB protection)

- High star rating with at least four stars (UVA protection)

- UVA protection can also be indicated by the letters 'UVA' in a circle, which indicates that it meets the EU standard

If you're going to be exercising or in the water, it's worth getting a sunscreen that is resistant to water and sweat. But remember that this does not mean that your sunscreen is waterproof, and you will still need to reapply after you come out of the water, despite what it says on the bottle.

2 Apply sunscreen properly

Most of us don't put sunscreen on frequently enough, thickly enough or reapply it as needed. To ensure that you are wearing it properly, apply two tablespoons of SPF 30 to your arms, legs and body and one teaspoon of SPF 50 to your face. Pay close attention to your ears, neck, arms, eyelids, feet (the bottoms too), and lips. Reapply every two hours.

3 Check the expiry date

Sunscreen does not stay effective forever. Make sure you check the expiration dates. Additionally, sunscreens that have been exposed to heat for long periods may be less effective. If your sunscreen has been kept in a hot car, it may be time to buy a new one.

4 Never sunbathe

You should never sunbathe, even with SPF 30. That is misusing it. If you want to lie outside on a sunny day, you should be underneath an umbrella or in the shade and wearing:

- A light, long-sleeved shirt / trousers / sunglasses

- Sun-protection factor 50 on your face

5 Never use sun beds

Sun beds are an absolute no-no. They are as dangerous for your body as smoking. Sunbeds are worse than sun tanning because they give you a much higher dose of radiation than you would get from natural sun. Even one session can increase your risk of skin cancer by 67pc. The only safe tan is a fake tan.

6 Keep children out of the sun

We should never let children get any unnecessary sun exposure. We should also never let them get sunburned. Just one bad sunburn before you are 18 could increase your chances of skin cancer by half. Children under the age of two should not be out in the sun at all. Bring kids inside during the middle of the day. Ensure that they are wearing sun block on any exposed skin.

7 Stay in shade between 11am & 3pm

One of the best ways to protect your skin from the sun is to spend time in the shade, especially in the middle of the day when the sun's rays are at their most intense. You can find or create shade in many different ways. For example, stay under trees and foliage, use umbrellas, cover up with clothing or go indoors.

8 Cover up with clothes

The more skin that is covered by your clothing, the better the protection. Look for materials with a close weave, as they will block out the most UV rays. Holding the material up to the light is a good way to see how much light and UV rays will get through.

9 Wear a hat

Choose a wide-brimmed hat for the most protection. A 'legionnaire'-style hat that has flaps around the ears and back of the neck also offers good protection.

10 Wear sunglasses

Look for one of the following:

- 'CE Mark' and British Standard (BS EN 1836:1997)

- UV 400 label

- 100pc UV protection written on the label

11 Be Vitamin D aware

The body needs vitamin D for bone health. Vitamin D comes from the diet and the effect from the sun on the skin. Most people make enough vitamin D from about 20 minutes exposure a day to the sun in the summer on their hands and face. You can get vitamin D by eating fatty fish such as salmon, trout or mackerel, or drinking fortified milk or orange juice.

12 Protect yourself all year

Some of us think about sun protection when we go on holiday, but forget about it when we are in Ireland, due to our less than sunny weather. While the strength of UV rays can change based on the time of year and your location, UV rays reach the ground here in Ireland all year long, even on cloudy or hazy days, and can do damage to your skin.

13 Know your skin

It is very important to know your skin so that if any problems do develop you can get them diagnosed and treated as early as possible. Look at your skin about once a month so you can get to know what your moles look like and where they are on your body. Be familiar with your skin.

14 Learn your 'ABCDEs'

If you have moles, the best way to see if they are changing is to check your skin regularly to look for the ABCDE signs of melanoma.

Asymmetry - If you draw a line through a melanoma, the two sides will not match

Border - The border of an early melanoma tends to be uneven. The edges may be scalloped or notched

Colour - Most healthy moles usually have one or two colours. A mole with a number of different shades of brown, black or tan is a warning sign. Melanomas may also be blue, red or some other colour

Diameter - Melanomas are usually larger in size than the rubber at the top of a pencil (¼ inch or 6mm)

Evolving - Any change in shape, colour, size, elevation (height), or any other trait, or a new symptom like bleeding, itching or crusting is a warning sign

15 Go see a doctor

If you are worried about a mole or freckle, get it checked by a doctor. Don't wait and see. Moles change and alter as part of our normal ageing and changing, but some may change in an abnormal way.

If there is a problem with your mole, the sooner you get it checked out, the easier it will be to treat. Early detection saves lives. Talk to your GP today if you are concerned.

■ Dr Patrick Ormond is working with the Marie Keating Foundation on their Skintervention campaign and is urging Irish people to take better care of their skin. For more information see

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