Healthy Body

Staying safe in the sun

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland according to statistics by the National Cancer Registry. The problem is on the increase; around 8,000 cases of non-melanoma skin cancers are diagnosed in this country every year.

Skin damage accumulates year after year. This explains why skin cancer is more common among elderly people. One in six men and one in seven women develop skin cancer by the age of 74. Increased cancer awareness and accessibility to sun creams means that perhaps future generations might be more fortunate.

Let's face it, we're so sun starved here in Ireland that advising people to stay out of the sun rarely works. However, precautions should be taken to prevent permanent and irreversible skin damage. You don't have to be a sun worshipper lolling on a lounger in Spain to be at risk. In Ireland from April to September, the sun is particularly damaging for people spending time out of doors.

While people who work outdoors such as builders are urged to slap on the sunscreen, this also applies to those liable to be found on the nearest football pitch. If you regularly pound local pavements, you too should be protecting your skin. Ultra violet rays are powerful. They can penetrate glass, water clouds and even fine fabrics.

Dermatologists estimate that almost all signs of ageing – saggy skin, wrinkles and age spots – are sun induced. Unfortunately for many, fair skin tends to wrinkle more easily than dark skin because it contains less pigment, which acts as a natural filter. However, this does not mean that people with dark or black skin are exempt from sun cream application.

Take note ladies, a fortune can be saved on anti-ageing creams by simply applying a moisturiser containing SPF 15 to the face every morning. Grey skies shouldn't hinder your anti-ageing efforts; up to 80 per cent of UV rays pass through the clouds.

UVAs don't cause painful sunburn but can pass through glass and have long-term effects. UVBs simply burn the skin. Granted, they are the rays responsible for the much envied golden tan, but they're also one of the top causes of cancer.

Chances of discovering pre-cancerous skin conditions are improved by regularly performing simple skin examinations after showering. It is advisable to become accustomed to the appearance of any birthmarks or moles so that changes are easily identifiable. Signs to look for are changes in shape, size, colour and texture.

Sunkissed skin is short-term but can have lasting effects such as unsightly skin problems, cancer or a weakened immune system. Being bronzed doesn't mean you can't get sunburned; a tan is a sign that damaged skin is struggling to protect itself from the sun.