Protecting Your Skin in the Sun

As we enter the early stages of our summer and look forward to the first blast of summer rays, it is important to be aware of the damage the sun can do to our skin and know the precautions to take. 

Being out in the sun gives us a feeling of wellbeing and allows us to enjoy outdoor pursuits. This is not only beneficial for health but aids the prevention of diseases, both physical and mental. However, it is easy to over-do sun exposure and underestimate the strength of the sun which can lead to a range of skin problems, the most serious of which is skin cancer.

Sunburn and heavy tans are known to be harmful and carry an increased risk of skin cancer. Ultraviolet light in sunlight damages the DNA in the skin cells and over the years this can lead to skin sun damage and cancers developing. Fitzpatrick skin types are classified into 6 groups depending on the amount of melanin in the skin and your skins reaction to the sun.

Skin Cancer

According to Cancer Research UK, more than 130,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer were diagnosed in the UK in 2014 and is rising year-on-year. It is believed that the true figure may be higher as some of these cancers will not be diagnosed as they respond to simple treatments. Extensive sun exposure is thought to be responsible for the vast majority of cases with more and more of us travelling abroad more frequently for increasingly affordable sunshine holidays. 

In more than 4 out of 5 cases, skin cancer is a preventable disease. There are 3 wave lengths of ultra violet radiation which we need to be aware of – UVA, UVB and UVC. 

UVC does not penetrate the earth’s atmosphere, so it is only UVA and UVB that we need to protect our skin from. 

UVA – Ageing. Radiation causes sun induced skin ageing such as wrinkles, leathery skin and brown pigmentation. Whilst this is not as serious as skin cancer it can be socially unacceptable.

UVB – Burning. Radiation is mostly responsible for causing sunburn and this is linked with Malignant Melanoma and Basal Cell carcinoma (types of skin cancer).


Use of a sunscreen with a high Sun Protection Factor (SPF) and high UV protection will help to prevent the skin from burning. The SPF should be at least 25, and should be applied generously and regularly, especially after swimming or vigorous activity. The overall message in terms of sunscreen use is “more is better”. High sun protection factors will allow tanning but at a slower rate. This will help to reduce skin damage.

Be careful not to underestimate the level of protection from light cloud coverage. UV levels are of course higher on cloudless days but thin cloud has little effect on levels and these are the times we often don’t feel the need to apply sunscreen.

Your Doctor’s top sun-safety tips

• Protect skin with clothes, including a hat and sunglasses

• Seek the shade between 11am and 3pm

• Keep babies and young children out of the sun, use factor 50 and sun protective clothing

• Use a high SPF sunscreen, minimum of factor 25, and regularly apply throughout the day. You can even burn under a fabric umbrella or if it is overcast in summer

• Report any skin changes to your GP. The most important is a change in size or appearance of a mole

Those at greater risk

• People with very fair skin that burns easily

• People with a personal or family history of skin cancer

• People with more than 50 moles on their body

• People receiving treatment with immuno-supressive drugs

If you have any specific skin concerns or would simply like a general skin assessment, book in to see one of our GPs today.