The sun is enjoyable but what gives us a tan can also bring early signs of ageing, or significant medical conditions.
Melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer, is now more common than kidney, or bladder cancer. Overall, UK skin cancer incidence has grown rapidly in recent decades, to over 150,000 cases per year.
There are positive aspects, diagnosis and treatment have advanced. Above all, the reason for such significant growth is well understood, increasing sun exposure from overseas holidays.
Beyond rare causes such as radiation, or chemicals, skin cancers arise from over exposure to the sun’s rays, or the equivalent via sun beds. Dangers which for almost all of us, can be avoided.
There are individual skin cancer risk factors, such as hereditary traits, or having a large number of moles. Medical conditions including HPV viral infection, or immune suppression can also have an influence.
All the above are still much less significant than high sun exposure. Similar thoughts apply to skin tone, whilst fair skin can increase the likelihood of skin cancer, none of us are immune.
Sunburn will increase the risk of skin cancer, yet already having a tan offers little protection. The same precautions should be taken and deliberately reducing them because you have started to tan is a bad idea.
Sunscreen is a key weapon in preventing problems but many marketing claims such as “once a day” don’t add up. Any sunscreen will wash, rub, or sweat off and applying this to perfection in the first place is improbable.
Very low cost, or combination products can also be an issue. You should apply water resistant sunscreen, with minimum ratings of SPF 30+ and UVA 4 or 5 star, also reapply this every couple of hours, or after swimming.
There are numerous, specialist products available, from UV protective clothing, to sun blocking umbrellas. Much can however be achieved in other ways:
- Close weave, darker coloured clothing offers better sun protection.
- A broad brimmed, or legionnaire style hat will help in vital areas.
- Your eyes can also burn, wear decent quality, wrap around sunglasses.
- Spend ample time in the shade, create this for yourself in open areas.
- Another reminder on the value of sunscreen, used well this really works.
Choosing a long sleeved top, or long trousers, rather than all day in skimpy sunwear will also help. An approach which applies to everyone, although worth bearing in mind that young children’s skin is especially sensitive.
If you do get sunburnt, please don’t use more sun as a cure. Sponge with cool water, apply aftersun, calamine, or plain moisturiser and avoid the sun, until all existing redness has gone away.
Enjoying The Sun
We honestly don’t wish to be killjoys, sunshine feels good and is a natural creator of vitamin D. Spending time in the sun in many ways makes sense.
Doing so in a way which can permanently damage your looks, or bring unwanted skin cancers years later is still not rational. The sun and human skin are a combination which inescapably calls for moderation.
If you are suffering from past exposure, perhaps have concerns about existing changes in your skin, such as moles altering in shape, size, or colour, we are here to help in a non critical way.
Detrimental effects of the sun were not so well understood years ago but are now. As maxillofacial surgeons, we often treat skin cancers which could have been avoided and will be happier if they are in future.