May is skin cancer awareness month and with 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases being preventable, we want to share some of the dangers of unprotected sun exposure and our top tips on how to protect yourself. There are more than 16,000 new skin cancer cases in the UK every year. Fortunately, skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, so with more awareness of sun protection and key information to help with early detection, lives can be saved. 

What Causes Skin Cancer?

Most skin cancers are caused by exposure to UV light either from the sun, or sunbeds. Although skin damage and skin cancer is more common for people with paler skin, all skin types are still at risk. It is important that if you notice any skin changes which are ongoing, unusual or unexplained that you see your GP as soon as possible. Some key symptoms to look out for:

  • A new or changing mole
  • A lump on the skin
  • A patch of scaly, crust or rough skin
  • Sores or scabs
  • Changes under the nails or on the palms or soles of the feet

How can you Protect Yourself and Help Prevent Skin Cancer?

The best and most effective way to protect yourself is to be safe in the sun. Our advice is to always stay out of the sun as much as possible but try to seek shade where you can between 10am and 4pm when the sun is at its strongest. Cover up with appropriate clothing, sunhats and sunglasses with UV protection. 

Use a broad spectrum sunscreen (UVA & UVB) with at least SPF 30, all year round no matter the weather. If you are in direct sunlight, we recommend reapplying sunscreen every 2 hours or after any swimming, exercising or excessive sweating. Ensure your sunscreen is in date and is also applied to those easy to miss places – feet, scalp, tops of ears, lips, back of neck. People who get sunburnt can increase their risk of melanoma skin cancer by up to 5 times. 

Avoiding Sunbeds and Sunlamps is Vital

Using sunbeds increases your risk of melanoma by up to 20%, if you use a sunbed for the first time before the age of 35, you actually increase your risk of melanoma by 60%! The radiation produced by sunbeds is the equivalent to ‘extreme’ tropical sun, this level of radiation is extremely dangerous. The visible signs of UV skin damage can often take 20 years to appear, sun-damaged skin will become coarse, leathery, wrinkled and heavily pigmented with regular sunbed usage. 

It’s important to note that malignant melanoma is the most common form of cancer for women in their 20’s, the harmful effects of sun exposure don’t always wait until later in life to appear. Childhood tanning and sunburn are some of the leading causes of this type of cancer. Don’t increase your risk of developing skin cancer by using sunbeds, the long term risk vs the short term reward are really not worth it!

Make smart, safe decisions when it comes to UV exposure, it might just save your life!

There are many things in life which are out of our control so when we have the opportunity to actively prevent something, this shouldn’t be taken for granted. Skin cancer is the most preventable type of cancer, so by reducing sun exposure, taking precautions when in the sun and making conscious decisions to avoid things such as sunbeds, you may thank your future self.

We recommend regularly checking your skin for any noticeable changes, and contacting your GP if something doesn’t seem right. Don’t forget that the easiest way to protect yourself from UV exposure is to pop your SPF on 365 days a year, even if it’s raining or cloudy!