A glorious sunny day may give you a spring in your step, but could there be a darker side to sunshine? We all know about the damage tanning booths can do, but the sun can also cause harm to our skin in various ways.
How does the sun damage my skin?
- Ages your skin by destroying the elastic tissue inside it, making it less ‘springy’ and therefore more prone to wrinkles.
- Causes yellow discolouration of the skin, which makes you look ill and sallow. This is often why people become ‘addicted’ to sunbeds, because they hate the way their skin looks when it is no longer tanned.
- Mottling of the skin.
- Makes small blood vessels under the skin dilate, causing thread veins.
Now for the really bad news!
Sun exposure also increases your risk of skin cancer. If you have any of the following, see your doctor quickly:
- A mole that is changing colour or shape; getting bigger; itching or bleeding.
- A pink or red lump (most likely on your head, hands or shoulders) that forms a non-healing scab or ulcer.
Who is at highest risk?
There are two main groups of people at particularly high risk of skin cancer – people with skin that tends to burn easily and those who spend long periods in the sun over a lifetime.
You are at higher risk of melanoma if you:
- Have red or blonde hair.
- Have blue or green eyes.
- Have freckles.
You are at higher risk of ‘non-melanoma’ skin cancer if you’ve had a long-term job or hobby that keeps you out in all weathers.
How can I help myself?
While you can’t reverse sun damage, you can cut your risks of skin cancer and further damage dramatically with a few simple sun-safe steps. A 40 year-old who has protected his or her skin from sun will have the skin ‘age’ of someone ten years younger – and this rule applies whatever your age!
- Use a high sun protection factor (SPF) – at least factor 15, and higher if you’ve ever had skin cancer.
- Stay out of the sun between 10 am and 3 pm.
- Don’t stint on the sun cream! You need a whole handful to cover your body. If you spread it too thinly, the SPF will be much less than the label suggests.
- Re-apply sun cream every couple of hours, and after swimming.
- Longer-lasting products like Boots Soltan Once® really do last longer, so may be good for children who hate having cream put on.
- Protect your youngsters! About 50% of your lifetime sun exposure is likely to happen before the age of 18. Your kids and grandchildren are far too interested in playing with their friends to remember to think about their skin.
- If you notice any skin changes that you think might be cancer, don’t delay – most skin cancers can be completely cured, but only if they’re treated early.
On the plus side!
We do need some sunshine – in fact, it can be just what the doctor ordered. It’s essential to give us vitamin D, which protects us from osteoporosis (thinning of the bones). Half an hour a day from April-September in full British sunlight, without sun cream and with normal (short-sleeved) clothing, should give you enough vitamin D to last all year.
Some people suffer from depression when sunlight is in short supply, a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
Secret body parts that suffer from too much sun exposure
The curves of your body, and sensitive skin, are especially vulnerable to the sun. These include:
- The tops of your ears.
- Men’s scalps – skin on heads which used to be protected by hair is vulnerable to sun damage.
- The tip of your nose.
- Your shoulders.
- The top of your chest.