It looks like summer is starting to peak out of the rain clouds. It's great to have some fun in the sun but it's important we all take simple steps to keep our families safe. Unfortunately when the heat and UV levels rise, we do start to see the number of children with burns increase too.
Before we get onto some tips on how to stay safe in the sun and what skin changes to look out for that might indicate a skin cancer, let’s bust some common myths:
Myth: You can only burn in the middle of summer.
Fact: The sun can be strong enough to cause sunburn from early April until the end of September, even if it’s cloudy or the sun doesn’t feel very strong. During winter you are still exposed to the UV rays of the sun so it is good practice to apply sunscreen all year round.
Myth: Sunscreen only needs to be applied once a day.
Fact: Some products state that they only need to be applied once a day. However, this does not take into account the fact that most of us miss some parts of our skin when we apply sunscreen; apply it too thinly or that it rubs, washes or comes off due to sweat. It’s therefore important to apply sunscreen at regular intervals throughout the day.
Myth: The odd bit of sunburn doesn’t make much difference.
Fact: Although one episode of sunburn does not mean you will go on to get skin cancer, getting sunburnt once every two years has been shown to increase your risk of getting melanoma by three times.
Myth: Sunscreen lasts forever.
Fact: Most sunscreens have an expiry date so it’s important that you replace them when they’re out of date. Once expired, they will not provide you with the level of protection needed.
Myth: People with darker skin are not at risk of sun damage and skin cancer
Fact: Although people with darker skin have a lower risk of skin cancer than those with fair skin, it does not mean that they can’t get it. In fact, people with darker skin are more likely to have their skin cancer diagnosed late and therefore at a stage when it is less able to be treated successfully.
Now that we’ve addressed those, here are some tips on how to protect yourself and your family when you’re out and about in the sun:
Protect the skin with clothing, including a hat, t-shirt and sunglasses.
Spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm, when the sun is at its strongest.
Use sunscreen of at least SPF30, and make sure that it has UVA and UVB protection. Apply it liberally and frequently throughout the day.
Keep babies and young children out of direct sunlight.
Finally, it’s really important to be aware of any changes in your skin and to see a doctor if you notice any. Follow the ABCD-Easy rules to help you identify changes that might indicate a melanoma - the most dangerous type of skin cancer. If you see changes different to the ones described below, it’s still important to see your doctor to find out what they are.
Asymmetry – the two halves of the area may differ in shape.
Border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches.
Colour – this may be uneven, with different shades of black, brown and pink.
Diameter – most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor.
Expert – if your GP has concerns about your skin, make sure they refer to a dermatologist.
People with darker skin should focus particularly on their palms, soles, nails, genital regions and mucous membranes (moist surfaces of the body such as the surface layers of the eyes, inside the nose, the throat and the genitalia) when looking for any changes that could be cancerous.
For more information and advice head to the British Association of Dermatologists’ website.