Skin cancer is the 6th most common cancer in the UK with 113,000 people being diagnosed in 2011. Around 13,000 of these diagnosed cases were classified as malignant melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. This is the equivalent to 37 people every day in the UK alone. Considering that most skin cancers are caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV) exposure from the sun or sun beds which we can protect ourselves against, this is a very sobering fact.
There are two types of UV radiation that affect our skin. UVA is radiation that is transmitted from the sun in long wavelengths that penetrate deep into our skin, thus we do not always see the damaged that is being caused by prolonged exposure. UVA is primarily associated with causing our skin to lose elasticity therefore ageing more quickly and damage that leads to skin cancer
UVB radiation is transmitted via shorter wavelengths and tends to affect the top layers of our skin. The damage caused by UVB tends to be more readily visible as it is UVB that is responsible for sun burn. It is also UVB radiation that has strong links to the most serious types of skin cancer such as malignant melanoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Prolonged exposure to the sun without adequate protection can also cause photo-sensitive skin reactions and prickly heat, as well as exacerbate conditions such as rosacea. This is why it is vital we must protect our skin as much as possible to prevent short term and long term damage.
The most common way in which we all know to protect ourselves from the suns UV rays is sun cream, but it important to know how they work in order to ensure you use the sun cream that provides the best protection.
Sun protection factor (SPF) is the recognised measurement of how well a suncream protects against UVB. An SPF 15 filters out 93% of the UVB radiation whereas SPF30 filters out approximately 97% of the suns UVB rays. However it is important to remember that the actual exposure to UV radiation is dependant on the intensity and duration of which we are exposed. Many readily available sun creams now also protect against UVA radiation to some degree, which should be stated on the packaging.
In the UK, although not a particularly sunny climate for many of the months it is still recommended by the British Association of Dermatologist that we protect our skin daily with a sun cream of SPF15 or more. When abroad or when spending a significant amount of time in the sun it is recommended to use an SPF30 or higher. For children an SPF50+ is recommended.
It is important to remember that sun cream should be applied at least 30 minutes before exposing yourself to sunlight and should always be reapplied after 2 hours or after swimming or excessive sweating.
Other ways to protect ourselves