The idea that we can protect our skin through sun exposure really is a myth, yet continues to feature in public perception.
A recent survey of golfers in the UK found a belief in “Toughening my skin!” to be prevalent, when high sun exposure just achieves damage and an older look. Over 30% of players admitted they deliberately avoid sun protection, to get a tan.
In fairness, about 40% do use sunscreen, an improvement on years gone by, although three quarters of those do not reapply protection during a round. Neither is their behaviour unusual amongst sports participants.
Studies covering athletes, footballers and tennis players yield similar data, with lack of use of sunscreen, or lack of reapplication all too common. The danger of time in the sun is not being recognised.
A Life Outdoors
Recently collated data from Ireland demonstrates the problem. One in four skin cancer related deaths occur in people engaged in agriculture, construction, or other outdoor work, even though they only represent 10% of the population.
Ireland is a country which might be seen as having a pleasant climate but is not a sun haven. This dispels another fallacy which commonly appears in surveys, people seeing the sense in sun protection overseas, but not in the UK.
Sunscreen advertising tends to feature sandy beaches and sparkling seas but is just marketing pandering to market perception. They are missing an opportunity, a dose of reality might sell more sunscreen.
The sun can be as hot in the UK as in most of Europe. Whilst this can damage any type of skin, we also have a concentration of people with higher risk skin types.
Reasons To Be Safe
Melanoma rates in the UK have more than doubled within 30 years, almost tripled in men. One of our fastest rising cancers, seen as an old persons disease due to delayed onset but rates in young people have risen.
Although the most likely to prove fatal, melanoma is not the only skin cancer to be caused by sun exposure. Others may not often kill but can bring unwanted early ageing, or disfigurement in visible areas.
Even mild pre cancers such as actinic keratosis are hardly pleasant, or sun spots, or heavy wrinkles. There are no winners from excess sun exposure, only from choosing to keep your body safe.
Enjoying The Summer
Taking pleasure from nature and the sun are genetically wired, human instincts. Sunlight can release hormones which make us feel better, help to build strong bones, heal our skin, even contribute to lowering other cancer risks.
Nobody should suggest you entirely avoid sunlight, simply that you avoid excess exposure and use rational protection.
Good quality sunscreen, safer clothing, sunglasses and balanced time in the sun can all make this more enjoyable. You feel more relaxed, not concerned that you, or your family may be doing more harm than good.
Please enjoy the sun this summer, lockdown is easing and we can all get out more. We just don’t want your reason for getting out to be a visit for skin cancer treatment, next year, or any year to come.