Every year when Sun Awareness Week arrives it reminds us to be careful with our skin and to cream up… but every May often still has chilly winds and the thought of baring any skin is not appealing. However, it is a timely reminder that the sun is very strong.
Although we see a lot of sunshine in April, it’s in May that the strength of the sun really becomes apparent if you stay out in it for any length of time.
The sun is at its strongest at the time of the summer solstice, around June 21st but by early May it is as strong as in mid August and quite capable of causing sunburn, if you don’t take the right precautions.
Sun Awareness Week 2017 (May 8th-14th)
Even with this knowledge more than one in three Brits have been sun burnt in the last year while in the UK, and of those nearly a quarter were sun burnt three or more times, according to a survey carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists to mark their Sun Awareness Week (8th-14th May).
Brits are even more likely to be sun burnt abroad, with almost half of people who have been abroad in the last twelve months getting sun burnt whilst away.
This high rate of sunburn is despite the fact that 88 per cent of Brits believe that sun awareness messaging is relevant to their skin type.
When those who have suffered sunburn were asked about factors that might have contributed to previous cases of sunburn, the most common issues cited all could have been avoided by following basic sun protection advice.
Top of the list was not realising how strong the sun was, failing to reapply sunscreen after long periods, and not reapplying sunscreen after sweating or swimming.
However, there were also cultural reasons why Brits have been sun burnt, reflecting how we like to spend our time in the sun. Top of these was the desire for a tan, eight per cent felt that their alcohol consumption had contributed to their sunburn, and 13 per cent simply fell asleep in the sun.
Although men and women had similar rates of sunburn while in the UK, 37 per cent and 34 per cent respectively, there was a lot of variation across age groups, with younger people generally being less cautious in the sun.
The age group that admitted to being sun burnt in the UK the most were
- 25-34 year olds (51%),
- followed by 35-44 year olds and 18-24 year olds (both 46%),
- 45-55 year olds (35%),
- and people aged 55 years or more (22%).
All of this is of concern given that the risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer – more than doubles in people with a history of sunburn compared with people who have never been sunburnt. The British Association of Dermatologists’ Sun Awareness Week™ campaign aims to tackle common misconceptions that can lead to sunburn, as shown by this latest research, such as an underestimation of the UK’s UV levels on hot, sunny days, or the belief that a single application of sunscreen provides lengthy sunburn protection.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s. Every year over 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer (NMSC) – the most common type – are diagnosed in the UK. In addition to NMSC, there are over 15,400 new cases of melanoma every year, resulting in around 2,459 UK deaths annually.
“British people are increasingly well informed about sun protection and seem to understand the risks of sunburn, largely thanks to campaigns like Sun Awareness Week, however it’s proving to be a long and slow road to actually changing how we, as a culture, look after ourselves in the sun. Too many people are ready to laugh off sunburn as the inevitable price of enjoying the summer, but it shouldn’t be. It’s possible to enjoy the sun, and summer, without suffering sun damage; it just takes a bit of care.
“Particularly shocking is the small, but not insignificant, proportion of the population who seem to be “super burners”. It’s far from ideal for anyone to get sunburnt, but there are people out there who are reporting being burnt seven, eight, nine, ten, or even eleven times a year, both in the UK and abroad*. These people are really putting their lives at risk and need to think about how they can change their behaviour to prevent sunburn.”
Dr Nick Levell, President of the British Association of Dermatologists
As part of the Sun Awareness campaign, the British Association of Dermatologists has teamed up with Macmillan Cancer Support to deliver a nationwide sun awareness roadshow.
Macmillan’s information and support buses and Skin Cancer Nurse Specialists will be visiting events across the country, alongside Consultant Dermatologists from the British Association of Dermatologists to deliver vital skin cancer prevention and early detection advice.
Sun protection tips:
- Spend time in the shade during the sunniest part of the day when the sun is at its strongest, which is usually between 11am and 3pm in the summer months.
- Avoid direct sun exposure for babies and very young children.
- When it is not possible to limit your time in the sun, keeping yourself well covered, with a hat, T-shirt, and sunglasses, can give you additional protection.
- Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming, sweating or towelling to maintain protection.
Checking for skin cancer:
There are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma, the most common, and melanoma, which is less common but more dangerous. The following ABCDE rules describe a few changes that might indicate a ‘melanoma’, which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. As skin cancers vary, you should tell your doctor about any changes to your skin, even if they are not like those mentioned here. If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure that you are referred to a dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS.
Asymmetry – the two halves of the area may differ in shape or colour
Border – the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches
Colour – this may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen
Diameter – most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor
Evolution – if you see progressive changes in size, shape or colour over weeks or a few months, you must seek Expert help.
If in doubt, check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS.
Non-melanoma skin cancer
Non-melanoma skin cancers can occur on any part of the body, but are most common on areas of skin that are most often exposed to the sun such as your head and neck (including lips and ears) and the backs of your hands. They can also appear where the skin has been damaged by X-rays, and on old scars, ulcers, burns and persistent wounds.
Non-melanoma skin cancers vary greatly in what they look like. They tend to appear gradually on the skin, and slowly get bigger over time. They will not go away on their own without treatment. Some possible signs include:
- A scab or sore that won’t heal. It may also bleed occasionally
- A scaly or crusty patch of skin that looks red or inflamed
- A flesh coloured, pearly lump that won’t go away and appears to be growing in size
- A lump on the skin which is getting bigger and that may be scabby
- A growth with a pearly rim surrounding a central crater, a bit like an upturned volcano
*2.6 per cent of people admitted to getting burnt more than seven times in the UK in the last 12 months, and 2.2 per cent of people admitted to getting burnt more than seven times abroad in the last 12 months.
All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total initial sample size was 2145 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 12th – 13th April 2017. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+) and have been filtered to all who selected an answer from the Fitzpatrick Skin Type Scale (making a total sample size of 2,110).