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Your summer skin questions, answered

Written by Dr Susan Gawler

, 4 min read

Your summer skin questions, answered

Why should UV protection matter to me?

UV radiation is the biggest cause of skin cancer, so thinking about how to protect your skin from the sun is important. This is especially true for those of us with fair skin, freckles, red or fair hair, blue eyes, or lots of moles; because those with fair skin types burn more easily and are more susceptible to skin cancer. That’s why awareness campaigns usually focus on fair skinned people.

That’s not to say that those of us with darker skin types do not need to worry about UV protection at all though. The risk of skin cancer might be less, but it is important to still be mindful about UV radiation.

As well as the risk of skin cancer, UV causes skin ageing, and can worsen hyper-pigmented skin disorders. It is important to know that though it is more rare, dark skinned patients can still get melanomas and other skin cancers, so it is important to be observant for skin changes.

What does the UV index tell us?

The UV index is a measure of the strength of UV radiation, and can be affected by a variety of factors. The scale runs from 0-11+. The higher the UV index, the greater the risk of sunburn. If the UV index is three or above, there is a risk of sunburn. Those who burn easily should think about wearing sunscreen or covering up. If it is eight or above, there is a high risk of sunburn, and sun protection is important for all skin types.

You can check the UV index on the weather forecast or you can download the WorldUVApp to your phone for up to date world UV index information for thousands of global locations.

What is the ‘shadow rule’?

The sun is strongest in the middle of the day (between 11 am and 3pm). It can be helpful to remember that you are more likely to burn when your shadow is shorter than you. This can be a useful prompt to remember to take more care at these times.

Are sunbeds safer than natural sun-tanning?

In a word, no. People who have used sunbeds are at a much greater risk of developing melanoma than those who have never used them.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (an agency of the World Health Organization), has classified sunbeds as a Group 1 carcinogen (placing them in the same category as tobacco). The UV radiation levels emitted by sun-beds can be 15 times higher than the Mediterranean sun. The UV radiation damages DNA and this can result in skin cancer.

Healthcare professionals in many countries are trying to legislate against the use of sunbeds, and several European countries have already banned their use by people under the age of 18.

How can I spot a melanoma?

Melanoma is on the rise in the UK. It is important to be observant of your skin, and mindful of changes to any of your existing moles, or any new skin lesions which are arising.

If a mole is getting biggerchanging colourchanging in shape, or is no longer symmetrical, then you should seek medical advice.

Melanoma can be treated. The chances of cure are higher if the melanoma is diagnosed and treated early, so don’t delay.

How does sunscreen work?

There are 2 types of sunscreen available. Chemical and mineral. In short, chemical sunscreen absorbs UV light and releases it as heat. Mineral sunscreen (also commonly referred to as physical sunscreen) absorbs UV radiation and deflects it away from the skin.

What does SPF and the little stars on the bottle mean?

SPF just means ‘sun protection factor’. So the higher the number on a sunscreen bottle, the more protection you’ll get from wearing it. The SPF rating is a measure of the sunscreen’s protection against ultraviolet B (UVB) rays that cause sunburn.

SPF measures protection against UVB rays, but there’s another type of sunbeam we need to be aware of when protecting our skin: UVA rays. The UVA protection rating on sunscreen is indicated using a star rating out of five. Look out for this too when choosing your sunscreen.

Aim to use a sunscreen with SPF of at least 30 and a UVA protection of at least four stars.

The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Seek the advice of a doctor with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never delay seeking or disregard professional medical advice because of something you have read here.

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