How do I protect my skin type against the harsh summer sun?
Our summers are getting hotter and longer in the UK because of global warming, and yet we are still going on holiday to lovely, warm climates such as Florida, which has sun all year round. In particular, if you are doing water sports or going fishing, you must protect your skin sensibly with clothing, choosing the hours of the day that you go out, seeking shade and wearing sunscreen.
If you do not protect your skin, particularly if you are fair skinned, the harsh summer sun is going to do permanent damage that could predispose you to skin cancers. Continue reading as we outline how you can protect your skin from the harsh summer sun.
Why should I protect my skin type?
You should protect your skin type against the harsh summer sun to avoid the development of basal cell carcinoma. This type of cancer develops when ultraviolet light damages the DNA in the basal cells of the skin layer. Basal cell carcinomas, which is the commonest skin cancer, is typically developed in the sun-exposed parts of your body – other skin cancers include squamous cell carcinoma or malignant melanoma.
Basal cell carcinomas grow slowly, starting as a small pimple and may start as a white, pearly, skin-coloured or pink bump that is not painful, which may be slightly translucent; it has some tiny blood vessels in it and may start to bleed and scab over. This is typical of a basal cell carcinoma, often described as a pearly lesion, but unfortunately, when it becomes more advanced, it is also described as a rodent ulcer as it eats away at the tissue gradually.
Factors affecting skin cancer
As well as sunlight, other factors that increase your risk of developing basal cell carcinoma include the following:
- Chronic repeated sun exposure, particularly during childhood or adolescence, and particularly if you suffered severe sunburn.
- Having a fair skin type such as Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2, which is the description of people who have red or blonde hair and light-coloured eyes. People with Fitzpatrick skin type 1 and 2 have less pigment in their skin, which is known as melanin – this protects the skin from the damaging UV radiation. People with fair skin are very sensitive to the effects of UV light in sunlight and more at risk of developing skin cancer than a person who has darker skin.
- Radiation therapy used to treat dermatological conditions.
- Your gender. Men are more likely to develop basal cell carcinoma than women, and it may be that they are outside more often, or it may be a hormonal effect.
- Your age. Because skin cancer such as basal cell carcinoma develops slowly, the majority of people develop skin cancer after the age of 50. However, the foundation for that skin cancer developed in childhood, adolescence or your early 20s. Therefore it is so important that you protect your skin type against the summer sun to avoid later development of basal cell carcinoma, commonly after the age of 50.
- Family history or personal history of previous skin cancer. If you have a member of the family who has had basal cell carcinoma, then you have a genetic chance of developing this as well. Your chances of developing the disease also increase if you have already had one basal cell carcinoma.
- Immunosuppressant drugs. If you take drugs that weaken your body’s immune system, for instance, after a kidney or liver transplant, or drugs prescribed by your oncologist for cancer, then you are more at risk of developing skin cancer, including basal cell carcinoma.
- There are inherited syndromes that predispose people to skin cancer, such as the basal cell naevus syndrome known as Gorlin-Goltz syndrome. The genetic disorder Xeroderma pigmentosum also causes sensitivity to sunlight and increases the risk of skin cancer because it does not repair the skin damage from UV light.
Tips to protect yourself from the sun
Here are some tips on how to protect your skin against the sun’s harmful rays:
- Avoid the sun between the hours of 10 am and 5 pm, when sunrays and UV levels are
at their highest. Realise that UV radiation is present all year round, not just in summer
when the sun is out, but every month of the year. Even when there are clouds, 80% of
UV light can penetrate through and cause damage.
- Wear sunscreen all year round. You should consider wearing sunscreen on your face and hands between the months of November and April, even in London and even if you work indoors. The reason is that UVA and UVB can penetrate through clouds and you can get chronic repeated UV exposure. Therefore, you need a broad spectrum sunscreen of SPF 30 to protect against the sun-damaging effects on your skin during the months of November to April. From the beginning of May to the end of October you should do exactly the same but instead use an SPF 50 or 50+. In addition, you should take other precautions to protect your skin type against the summer sun.
- You should wear protective clothing as sunscreen alone will not fully protect you. Clothing made of dark cloth that is tightly woven provides the best protection against UV light. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat is better than wearing a baseball cap, but a baseball cap is better than nothing at all.You can get photoprotective clothing because UV often penetrates through clothing. For example, you may have put sunscreen on your arms, but forgot your shoulders and you are wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt – only to find at the end of the day when you get home that you have sunburnt shoulders. This is because the UV rays have gone through your T-shirt. You should also wear sunglasses that provide full protection against UVA and UVB light.
- Please avoid tanning beds because they emit UV radiation, which increases your risk of skin cancer. Although a tanning bed does not seem like the harsh summer sun, it is just as bad for you.
- Get to know your skin, know your freckles, be vigilant if one of them changes. Regularly check your skin, and ask your parent or your partner to help you to check your back.
- See your consultant dermatologist, Dr Jennifer Crawley at Clinica London, if you have already had skin cancer or if you are concerned that because of lack of protection of your skin type against the sun that you have developed skin cancer or a pre-cancerous lesion.
Clinica London dermatologist
Dr Jennifer Crawley will be pleased to see you as our consultant dermatologist here at Clinica London if you are Fitzpatrick skin type 1 or 2, or if you have concerns about a change in the appearance of your skin that could herald a skin cancer.
If you require more extensive investigations for your skin, she will be able to do these, including biopsy of lesions, and you should enquire about prices with Lizzie Granger or Jenny Burrows at Clinica London.