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The dangers of the sun: Know your risks

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For many people, summer is their favourite time of the year, with trips to the beach, fun in the garden and picnics in the park just some of the many activities that take place.

Even when the British weather disappoints, many people will jet away to the continent or further afield to soak up the rays, in the hope of getting a tan to make their family and friends jealous when they return.

However, the sun can also be extremely dangerous, and caution is needed at all times to protect the skin of yourself, your partner and your children.

As such, the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has year-round advice for people on how to recognise the risks and protect against them to ensure sun safety this summer.

The main risks

Some people are more at risk of developing skin cancer than others. There are two types of skin cancer – non-melanoma, which is more common and usually less serious, and melanoma, which is rare but can be deadly if not treated quickly.

Anyone with pale skin, red hair and freckles who is prone to burning has a much higher risk than those with dark skin. Similarly, anyone with past cases of sunburn has a greater likelihood of developing skin cancer.

Moles can also be an indicator. People with a high number of moles – usually in excess of 50 - has an elevated risk, as does anyone with ‘unusual’ moles. This can include moles that are larger than usual, different to the normal spherical shape, those raised noticeably off the surface of the skin, and any that appear in clusters.

Anyone with a family history of skin cancer and also those who have previously had the disease have an increased risk of it returning. Those with a suppressed immune system also have an elevated risk, along with older people in general, who have had more exposure to the sun throughout their lives.

Occupational and lifestyle factors can also play a role in increasing risk, with anyone who works outdoors having a higher likelihood of developing skin cancer, and also anyone who spends a long time sunbathing or regularly uses sunbeds.

The BAD advises anyone who notices a change in their skin, particularly the size and shape of moles, to contact their doctor or GP, where they can be referred to a consultant dermatologist or skin cancer specialist for immediate assessment and treatment, where possible.

Preventative measures

Although some people are more at risk of skin cancer and sunburn than others, there are plenty of precautions that everyone can take to help limit the effect of the sun’s harmful rays.

Covering up any exposed areas of skin is the easiest way to combat the sun. A long-sleeved shirt is most effective, along with a hat that covers the face, neck and ears.

Wearing sunglasses that comply with health laws – usually featuring ‘CE’ on the side and that offer adequate UV protection - can also protect your eyes from potential damage.

Of course, avoiding the sun altogether is another option. If you don’t want to stay inside, look for shaded areas under parasols or awnings, though be aware that the sun can still make its way through these materials. Also aim to stay out of the sun when it is at its hottest and most dangerous, which is generally between 11am and 3pm – this can be a great time to head inside for lunch.

If you must go out in the sun, then sunscreen is essential. Cover any exposed area of skin in a lotion that offers adequate UV protection – aim for a minimum SPF of 30, which protects against UVB rays. Also look out for the UVA circle on the packaging or bottle or a five-star rating, which means the cream also protects against skin ageing and sun damage.

Always apply sunscreen between 15 and 30 minutes before going out in the sun to allow it to soak in, then reapply every two hours thereafter to ensure continuous protection, or even more frequently if you are dipping in or out of the swimming pool and towel drying.

Prevention is always better than the cure, so remember to take all the above precautions and know your risks before you and your family head out in the sun.

The British Association of Dermatologists is a charity that aims to improve the practice, teaching, training and research of dermatology. Advice on skin protection and information about its areas of operation are available on its website at:


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