Safe in the sun
Leading dermatologist Dr Tamara Griffiths offers her advice on making the most of the sunshine this summer
Take care of your skin and prevent cancer
As summer time approaches, people are eagerly anticipating the warm weather that we have waited so long to enjoy. However, with longer days and soaring temperatures comes a higher risk of harming our skin through sun damage.
Dr Tamara Griffiths, on eof the country’s leading consultant dermatologists and honorary lecturer at the University of Manchester, has advice about safety in the sun and what we can do to ensure our skin is protected. Tamara practises both in the NHS and the private sector, and is also a trustee of the British Skin Foundation, and director of education at the British Association of Dermatologists.
“UV stands for ultraviolet radiation, which is emitted by the sun and consists of a broad range of wavelengths, including UVA and UVB rays. These wavelengths can penetrate cloud cover, and UVA can even penetrate window glass,” explains Tamara, who has appeared on BBC’s Horizon programme and been listed as one of Tatler’s top dermatologists.
“UVB irradiation causes sunburn, which can lead to a build up of damage in the skin causing skin cancer. UVA irradiation penetrates more deeply into the skin and can result in premature skin ageing.”
To help prevent damage from these wavelengths, we are encouraged to use sun protection factor, or SPF. SPF is actually a rating system measuring UVB rays which cause sunburn. The higher the SPF the less UVB irradiation to the skin, and the more effective the sunscreen is at preventing sunburn.
“If you wear SPF 20 this means 1/20th of the burning radiation will reach the skin as long as the sun cream is applied correctly,” says Tamara. In other words, it will allow the wearer to stay out for 20 times longer than without protection, before burning. But the correct amount, and frequent reapplication, is required for it to remain effective, especially when swimming or with perspiration. It’s also worth checking the expiration date on the bottle, as the effectiveness of sun protection may be compromised with time.
“Another rating system is the five-star system that measures UVA radiation, which is the wavelength that penetrates deeper into the skin. The higher the number of stars, the stronger the protection. The combination of UVA and UVB protection is referred to as broad spectrum.”
To ensure that your skin is fully protected, it’s best to apply
sun protection before going out, especially in the summer or on a sunny holiday. When it comes to children, their skin is especially susceptible and there are products that are child-friendly.
“In addition to sun cream, protective clothing such as hats and swimming costumes that cover the shoulders can be helpful,” adds Tamara.
Of course, sometimes even the most conscientious of sun cream wearers can be caught out with sunburn, so if you do experience the painful red burn Tamara advises you to avoid further sun or to cover up to prevent further damage. “Cool compresses and menthol creams, as well as ibuprofen or paracetemol, may help alleviate symptoms of pain and discomfort. However it will not prevent damage to the skin, as the damage has already occurred,” she says. “Blistering is a sign of significant damage, it is usually best not to disrupt them, but medical advice should be sought if there is severe blistering and other signs of being unwell.”
Sadly, too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun or sunbeds is the main cause of skin cancer, and according to Cancer Research UK almost nine in ten cases of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer, could be prevented through enjoying the sun safely and not using sunbeds.
“Those with fair skin, blue eyes and blonde or ginger hair are at higher risk of developing skin cancer,” says Tamara, who also explains it’s not just on your summer holiday where you should be aware of safety in the sun. “Outdoor workers or those who engage in outdoor sports or hobbies (a prime example is gardening) also have a higher risk due to cumulative sun damage over the years.”
If you’re concerned about anything on your skin, make sure you speak to your GP. There are warning signs on our skin we should look out for, says Tamara. “Moles that are asymmetrical, or with irregular colour or border, may need to be checked or monitored, as well as any moles that are changing or which stand out compared to others.
“A slowly progressive sore which doesn’t heal is another warning sign. If in doubt, it is best to seek medical advice.” N
In addition to sun cream, protective clothing such as hats and swimming costumes that cover the shoulders can be helpful