Kathryn Brown, Fitness and Nutrition Coach at We Are Wellbeing, talks to us about the delights and dangers of sun exposure:
Stay safe on Sun Awareness Week 2022
It’s getting to that time of year; the sun is starting to shine and summer holidays are fast approaching. This brings many of us a great deal of joy, we have longer days, higher temperatures, BBQ’s, beach days and so on. There are many benefits to the spring and summer months, with a lot of people finding it easier to stay active and eat well. However, it is also important for us to understand and mitigate the risk of skin damage from the sun.
Sun Awareness Week is an annual event brought to us by the British Association of Dermatologists and aims to teach the public on the prevention and detection of skin cancer. This year it runs from Monday 2nd May until Sunday 8th May and kicks off a summer-long sun awareness campaign.
Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in the UK and rates have increased steeply over the last few decades, in part due to lifestyle changes, ozone depletion and clothing choices. The good news? There are many steps we can take to protect ourselves, and if caught early, many cases are curable.
What can I do to protect myself?
A 2017 study highlighted that 35% of people get burnt in the UK every year and 46% get burnt whilst abroad, take a look around your colleagues or friends, that’s more than 1 in 3. After the long UK winter, we don’t need to avoid the sun completely, but we can take certain precautions to avoid the danger of burning and the risk of skin cancer:
- Protect your skin with clothing, including a hat, a t-shirt and sunglasses.
- Use a sunscreen of at least SPF 30 which has UBV and UVA protection, this should be applied generously 30 minutes before sun exposure, and reapplied every 2 hours, or after being in water.
- Spend time indoors or in the shade between the hours of 11am and 3pm, this is when the sun is at its strongest.
- Take extra care with children and babies as their skin is much more sensitive.
It is easy to assume that if the sun isn’t out, we don’t need to worry about sun exposure. But the truth is, a high percentage of UV (ultraviolet) rays still penetrate the clouds and we need to protect ourselves, even on cloudy days.
It is also important to point out that natural sunlight isn’t the only thing that can put us at risk. Sunbeds and tanning booths use UV rays and emit the same harmful radiation as the sun. Prolonged and regular use can increase your risk of skin cancer and premature aging.
How do I check my skin?
In addition to protection, early detection is also key. There are different types of skin cancer and regular (every month) self-examination of your whole body can help reduce the risk of further spreading, and more serious cancers. So, what should you look out for?
- Any new lumps, spots, ulcers or moles which weren’t there before.
- Marks on the skin that have changed in shape, size, colour or texture.
- Changes to moles on the skin, including asymmetry, blurred borders, uneven colours or a diameter over 0.25 inches.
- Areas of the skin that are itchy, painful or bleed.
- Sores that do not heal.
If you notice any changes, or are concerned, you should speak to your GP. They will be able to advise and may refer you to a dermatologist for further investigation. Whatever the outcome, there is no harm in checking.
What about Vitamin D?
You may have heard that sunlight exposure is our main source of Vitamin D, and this is true. Vitamin D is essential for our bone health, and a deficiency can affect bone development and strength in children and adults.
But with UV being the main source of Vitamin D for people in the UK, how can we achieve healthy levels whilst still protecting ourselves from the sun?
For most people, going about your day-to-day activities will be enough to maintain sufficient levels, without the need for deliberate sunbathing. What’s more, studies have never shown that the use of sunscreen leads to a Vitamin D deficiency, the benefits of sun protection certainly outweigh the cons.
Additionally, small amounts of Vitamin D can be obtained through our diet, with oily fish, egg yolks and red meat being a good source. The NHS currently advises that adults and children over 4 should take a Vitamin D supplement of 10 micrograms per day during the autumn and winter months in the UK.
Why not use Sun Awareness Week 2022 to assess your sun exposure and put the steps in place for a happy and healthy summer!
By Kathryn Brown, Fitness and Nutrition Coach at We Are Wellbeing