Sinead Manning - Pharmacist, Jul 2021.
Spending time outdoors has never been so important BUT we must protect ourselves and our loved ones to ensure it’s a memorable experience for all the right reasons and not the wrong ones!
Skin Cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland and in fair/light skinned populations worldwide, for whom sunburn is a risk factor. Skin cancer is the abnormal, uncontrolled growth of skin cells. Skin cancers are generally divided into non-melanoma skin cancers (which include basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma), and melanoma. The vast majority of these cancers are associated with overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, mainly from sunlight. UV radiation from artificial sources (e.g., sunbeds), also cause skin cancer.
The good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented. A person’s risk is mainly influenced by exposure to UV, and skin pigmentation.
It is important to remember that children’s skin is much more vulnerable to the damaging effects of UV radiation from the sun and that sun damage is cumulative. Preventing overexposure to UV radiation and sunburn in childhood reduces the risk of sun damage, and skin cancer in later life. Research has indicated that having ‘ever’ experienced a sunburn in childhood, nearly doubles the risk of melanoma of the skin in adulthood.
Do You Know Your Skin Type?
The effects of sunlight are not the same for everyone. A person’s natural skin colour influences their sensitivity to UV and skin cancer risk, and can be classified on a scale called the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale, which ranges from 1 (high risk) to 6 (low risk). It considers skin colour (i.e., pale white to black), and how the skin reacts to sunlight (i.e., whether it burns easily, or tans). Most people living in Ireland have fair skin – Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2. People with these skin types burn easily and tan poorly so are particularly vulnerable to UV damage and, as a result, are at a higher risk of skin cancer. The good news is you can reduce your risk of skin cancer by avoiding overexposure to UV from sunlight or artificial sources (never ever use a sunbed!!).
Please check out your Skin Type on ‘The Fitzpatrick Skin Type Classification Scale’ which is available on the Irish Skin Foundation Website. https://irishskin.ie/know-your-skin-type/
So, What is Solar Ultraviolet (UV) Radiation?
UV radiation is a part of sunlight. There are 3 types: UVA , UVB and UVC. We only need to protect ourselves against UVA and UVB as the ozone layer blocks all UVC. Overexposure to UV can cause sunburn, skin cancer, skin and eye damage and premature skin ageing. UVB is mainly responsible for sunburn while UVA is mostly involved in skin ageing. However, both types of UV are linked to the development of skin cancer.
UV damage adds up over our lifetime. Both occasional and chronic UV exposure can be damaging; sunburn is the most harmful, but frequent non-burning exposures can also increase skin cancer risk.
UV rays are present all year round but levels vary, depending on things like: your location, time of day, time of year and weather conditions. The UV INDEX measures the UV level at the surface of the Earth. It ranges from 0 -11+; the higher the number, the greater the risk of skin damage, particularly sunburn. The UV Index is a great information source as UV cannot be felt or seen so we need this information to help defend ourselves against overexposure. The Irish Skin Foundation recommend in Ireland making sun protection part of your daily routine particularly from April - September, when the intensity of sunburn producing UV is greatest, even when it is cloudy.
The UV index forecast and advice for Ireland is included in Met Éireann’s regional weather forecasts from May to September but please be aware, that this can only be an average for any one day over the whole country.
We must also be aware that chronic exposure of the skin to UV over many years in ‘indoor settings’ (e.g., when driving or through window glass), can cause invisible skin damage, resulting in premature ageing and may increase skin cancer risk. Therefore, those who spend long hours driving, sitting next to a window or working in glass greenhouses, should undertake UV protective measures to reduce their cumulative UVA exposure through glass.
How They Work
Sunscreen works by helping to protect our skin by filtering out UV radiation through the use of chemical (organic) and physical (inorganic) active ingredients.
How To Apply Sunscreen Correctly:
Correct amount: You should apply at least one teaspoon to each body part.
Correct locations: Don't forget your ears, your nose, your lips (choose a broad-spectrum lip balm), your neck, the tops of your feet and (if your hair is thinning) your scalp!
Correct timing: Apply sunscreen at least 20-30 minutes before you go out in the sun.
Correct frequency: Reapply frequently, at least every two hours and after exercising, sweating, swimming, or towel drying This includes 'waterproof' and 'water-resistant' sunscreen.Correct use: No sunscreen can provide 100% UV protection. Broad-spectrum sunscreen should be used alongside other protective measures such as clothing and shade.