After a long winter, the prospect of a sunshine holiday looms large in our minds. There are however risk factors in acquiring that so-called ‘healthy tan’ from sunbathing. Over-exposure to sunlight radiation can cause three skin cancers that can kill; (malignant melanoma, squamous, or basal cell carcinoma).
To quote the Cancer Council of Australia website, “A tan is not a sign of good health or wellbeing, despite many Australians referring to a ‘healthy tan’. Almost half of Australian adults still hold the misguided belief that a tan looks healthy. Tanning is a sign that you have been exposed to enough UV radiation (from the sun or solarium) to damage your skin. This will eventually cause loss of elasticity (wrinkles), sagging, yellowish discolouration and even brown patches to appear on your skin. Worst of all, it increases your risk of skin cancer.
In the UK at least 100,000 new cases of skin cancer occur each year, and the numbers are growing. The prime cause is UV exposure from sunlight.
The sun gives off ultra-violet (UV) radiation. This radiation is an invisible killer that you can’t see or feel. Over-exposure to UV causes early aging of the skin and consequent skin damage that can lead to skin cancer. It can also cause problems with the eyes and the immune system.
Avoiding sunburns and intermittent high-intensity sun exposure (especially in children, teens, and young adults) reduces the chances of getting skin cancer. Babies and young children can easily get sunburnt, which can result in the potential for a skin cancer in later life.
The US National Cancer Institute, (NCI), recommend that people of all ages and skin tones should limit the amount of time they spend in the sun, especially between mid-morning and late afternoon, (10am – 4pm when), and avoid other sources of UV radiation, such as tanning beds.
UV radiation is reflected by sand, water, snow, ice and pavement. It can go through windshields, windows and even clouds.
Even though skin cancers are more common among people with a light skin tone, people of all skin tones can develop skin cancer, including those with dark skin.
The NCI, British Skin Foundation and the Australian Cancer Council offer tips to be sun smart and protect your skin from UV radiation.
- Wear a hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears. Baseball caps and some sun visors protect only parts of your skin.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
- Wear long sleeves and long pants. Tightly woven, dark fabrics are best. Some fabrics are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The higher the rating, the greater the protection from sunlight.
- The British Skin Foundation and Australian Cancer Council recommend that you use a sunscreen with a sun protection factor, (SPF), of least 30. Apply the product’s recommended amount to uncovered skin preferably 30 minutes before going outside, and apply again every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.
British Skin Foundation
US National Cancer Institute