Keeping safe in the sun
I was a sun worshipper – what now?
In the ‘good old days’, when a tan was a sign of a healthy outdoor life and holidays abroad were a novelty, many of us paid the price of wanting a tan. Some of us never got further than the peeling sunburn; some became addicted to sun beds or spent every free hour in the sun. If any of those sounds like you, you need to be especially aware of the warning signs of skin cancer. But even if it doesn’t, look out for the signs. We can all get skin cancer, and spotting it early could save your life!
How high is my risk?
You’re more likely to be at risk of skin cancer if you:
- Have fair skin, especially blonde or red hair with freckles
- Have been sunburnt in the past (especially with blisters)
- Have more than ten moles
- Have used sun beds
- Have a history of skin cancer in your family.
Malignant melanoma accounts of about 1 in 10 cases of skin cancer but 9 out of 10 deaths from it. Your risk of melanoma is more closely linked to how many times (and how badly) you’ve been sunburnt, rather than overall sun exposure
Look out for a mole that follows the ABCDE rule
- Asymmetry (growing more on one side than another).
- Borders (irregular edges).
- Colour (not the same colour all over, or becoming black).
- Diameter (increases in size to more than ¼ inch).
- Elevation (used to be flat but is now raised).
Basal cell carcinoma
This kind of cancer is sometimes called a ‘rodent ulcer’. It doesn’t often spread to other parts of your body and kill you, but it can eat away scary amounts of flesh. Your overall lifetime sun exposure is the biggest predictor of whether you’ll get one of these. They are common on parts of your body that get the most sun – faces, necks, tips of ears, hands and upper chests are classic sites.
Look out for:
- A scab that bleeds from time to time but doesn’t heal completely.
- A flat, scaly red mark.
- A small ‘crater’ with raised rolled edges.
These are flat warty lesions that get much more common as you get older (we try to avoid the old fashioned term ‘senile keratosis’!) They look like bits of lichen on the bark of a tree. They usually don’t cause any problems, but do get your GP to check them out just in case.
Safe tanning for children – a contradiction in terms!
No matter how ‘healthy’ children look with a tan, it’s important to remember that a tan is nothing more than the skin’s response to damaging rays. Children’s skin is fairer, and more sensitive, than adults’ skin. So set your child up for life by being sun safe.
- Use sun protection factor (SPF) 30 sunscreen at least.
- Reapply at least every couple of hours, and after swimming
- Consider a sunscreen like Boots ‘Once’. It’s designed to protect your little one for longer – and means you won’t have to pin them down quite as often!
- Invest in a sun suit. There are lots of sun suits in bright colours and designs that dry quickly so they can play and even swim in them – many offer SPF 50. T-shirts let quite a lot of sun through (even more when they’re wet).
- Make them a foreign legionary! A hat is a must in the sun, and the best kind have a flap to protect the sensitive nape of the neck.
- Don’t be fooled by clouds or even shade. Most of the UV radiation of the sun comes through cloud, and can be reflected off sand, water and concrete.