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Skin Care and Sun Exposure

One of the biggest causes of skin aging and the biggest cause of skin cancer is ultra violet light, e.g. the sun’s rays (and artificial causes of UV light such as sun lamps).  90% of all wrinkles are caused by exposure to UV light. Vanity aside, The British Association of Dermatogists – abbreviated to BAD – have a sun awareness week this year, the aim of which is to raise the awareness of the risk of skin cancer when going out in the sun without adequate protection.

This is a cause that is close to my own heart. Whilst I am not medically trained, I have discovered, incidentally, two malignant melanomas and one basal cell carcinoma on my own clients. (I also found a pre-malignant melanoma on my own husband). They are very common in those susceptible people who spend a lot of time in the sun without adequate sun protection. Indeed, BAD have released the results of some research which is definitely a cause for concern. They asked YouGov to carry out some research on our sunbathing habits. This research discovered that 40% of British people got sunburnt at least once in the UK in 2022. Of even more concern, this percentage rose to 56% young people in the 18-34 age group.

BAD also analysed the UV Index data for the UK in 2022. The UV index measures the strength of the sun’s rays at a certain time and location, and once the score reaches 3, sun protection is advised. With the exception of areas in the very north of Scotland, between a third and  one half of all days in the UK in 2022 had a UV index of at least three.

This finding puts weight behind the BAD recommendation that sun protection should be used at least between April and September – when the UV index is likely to be highest. Sadly, most people ignore this advice.

However, as an aesthetician, I’m hoping to appeal to your vanity. What is the point of spending money on skin rejuvenation procedures if you’re just going to lie in the sun and undo the amazing work these procedures can achieve? Regardless of skin cancer, for a younger looking skin I recommend:

  • Daily application of a moisturiser or sunblock with a factor 50 spf on the face, preferably including 5 star UVA protection.
  • In the sunlight, protect your eyes with sunglasses. (Strong sunlight is a risk factor for the development of age related macular degeneration, a disease that causes blindness).
  • In strong sunlight and abroad, also protect your face with a hat

In addition to protect your skin from skin cancer and especially when abroad, wear factor 50 all over the exposed areas, wear a sun hat and t-shirt and avoid sunbathing at the hottest times of the day when the sun is at its strongest.

There is a strong culture and habit of sun bathing amongst the Brits, with 76% of people saying that they would spend at least some time in the sun and 7% saying that they aim to sunbathe as much as possible. In addition, 33% of people surveyed try to develop a suntan either by sunbathing or by not wearing sun protection. Of these people, 60% said they did it because it made them look “healthy” and 51% because it made them feel more attractive.  These findings suggest that most people in the UK are not worried about skin cancer, (or the aging of the skin from UV rays), even though these risks are widely discussed in the media.

The good news is that the use of sun beds, which have been linked to skin cancer, is declining, with only 3% using them regularly. Safer artifical tanning products and spray tans have gained in popularity, which is great news.

“While 2022 was an extraordinarily hot and sunny year, the reality is that these extreme weather events are becoming more common,” says the president of the British Association of Dermatologists, Professor Mabs Chowdhury. “In some parts of the UK almost half the days last year had a peak UV index at or above the level at which sun protection is recommended for people with lighter skin tones. A mentality shift amongst the British public in terms of our behaviour in the sun is sorely needed.”

“We are already reaping what we have sown with years of complacency when it comes to excessive sun exposure; skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK with more than a quarter of a million cases a year,” continued Chowdhury. “One in five people in this country will develop skin cancer in their lifetime – pretty grim odds.”

“Discussing the weather is famously a national pastime, but most people focus on temperature or rain, and fail to check the UV index regularly,” says Chowdhury. “I would urge everyone to check the UV index as a matter of course, particularly between April and September. If it is at 3 or above then I would urge people, particularly those with lighter skin tones, to take sun protection precautions. That means making use of shade, wearing clothing which will shade your skin, and using sunscreen that is at least SPF 30.”

The British Association of Dermatologists has lots of resources on the best practice for sun protection and avoiding skin cancer. It includes advice on how to spot the signs of skin cancer and also how to overcome misconceptions about those with darker skins believing that they don’t need to wear sun protection. For further information, visit www.bad.org.uk.

malignant melanoma

An example of a malignant melanoma. Classic signs include two different colours and an ill defined edge. 

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