Many of us wait all year for a chance to soak up the rays on a sunshine break. But as beneficial as the sun can be for our mood, it’s also potentially damaging for our skin. It’s therefore essential to take precautions ahead of and during a trip to sunnier climes.
Figures from Cancer Research UK reveal that melanoma skin cancer is the fifth most common type of cancer in the UK, with 15,400 new skin cancer cases diagnosed every year between 2013 – 2015. Incidence rates for melanoma skin cancer are projected to increase by 7% in the UK over the next 17 years.
Yet, it’s not all bad news – 90% of people diagnosed with malignant melanoma skin cancer now survive the condition for 10 years or more. Even more encouragingly, 86% of cases are preventable, which reinforces just how vital effective awareness and preventative measures really are.
Follow these sun safety tips to ensure you’re protected on your next holiday, and all year round.Use a high factor sun cream
The benefits of sun cream are well-known, but the fact that skin cancer has steadily risen in recent years suggests that we’re still not using it as much as we should.
Getting sunburned just once every two years is enough to triple your risk of developing malignant melanoma skin cancer, so sun cream is a vital form of protection.
There are a huge range of sun creams on the market today, with many different factors and levels of protection, but the British Skin Foundation recommends using one with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 30 every day.
It’s also important to know your UVA from your UVB. Both types of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight can cause skin cancer, but UVA rays are more often linked with skin aging, while UVB rays are the ones that cause the skin burning and cellular damage linked to most incidences of skin cancer.
Look for a waterproof sun cream that protects against both UVA and UVB rays, ideally with a five-star rating. Aim to apply two tablespoons of sun cream to your whole body about half an hour before heading out into the sun and reapply it every couple of hours and after swimming. Don’t assume that a cloudy day on holiday means that you can skip the sun cream though; UV levels can still be high.
Avoid sun exposure during the hottest part of the day
You’re most likely to burn when the sun is at its strongest, which is between 11am and 3pm. Try to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun during these hours; find some shade or cover up with loose clothing. It’s possible to burn in strong sunlight in just 10 minutes, especially if you are very fair-skinned.
It may sound extreme, but don’t forget about the risk from sitting by windows too – UV rays can get through many standard glass windows, so it’s still possible to burn.
Wear suitable clothing & sunglasses
Clothing offers the best defence for your skin when outside in the sun, in addition to a suitable sunscreen. Don’t forget to wear a hat to protect your scalp and hairline, which can be tricky areas to apply sun cream to. The tips of your ears are especially sensitive to the sun and can take a long time to heal from burning, so think about opting for a wide-brimmed hat. Protect the delicate skin around your eyes with sunglasses, making sure they guard against 99-100% of both UVA and UVB rays.
Understand the risks of skin cancer
It’s possible for anyone to develop skin cancer, but as cellular damage can accumulate over time, the main risk factor for skin cancer is older age. Other risk factors include:
- Having more than 20 moles on your body,
- Being fair-skinned and/or fair-haired,
- Having a close family member who has had skin cancer,
- Having been badly sunburned in the past.
You also have a higher risk of developing another melanoma when you’ve already had one.
In addition to understanding what your personal risk of developing skin cancer is likely to be, it’s important to be aware of other factors that can make you more susceptible.
For example, some medications can make your skin more sensitive to the sun and therefore increase your risk of burning. Some antibiotics, allergy medicines and certain medications for depression can all affect the way your body reacts to heat, from increasing the amount of fluid you lose through urine, to preventing you from sweating.
Read through the information that comes with your medication, or talk to your doctor if you’re unsure whether you may be at increased risk of getting skin cancer.
Check your skin regularly
Keeping an eye on your skin is especially important If you have already had an instance of skin cancer, but it’s a good habit for all of us to take up. Every month, take time to examine your skin from head to toe, paying special attention to moles and any changes to them, such as an increase in size, a change in colour or a previously flat mole becoming raised. You should see a doctor without delay if you notice a mole bleeding, itching or becoming scaly.
NHS Choices recommends checking for changes to the ABCDE of moles – Asymmetry, Border, Colour, Diameter and Elevation or Enlargement.
Don’t head off to the sun without specialist travel insurance
Of course, no sunshine break is complete without travel insurance. With Free Spirit, having an existing health condition or disability needn’t be a barrier to getting cover. We specialise in providing travel insurance that covers a wide range of pre-existing medical conditions and disabilities to people of any age.