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How to enjoy the sun and avoid the risks of skin cancer

The sun is essential for life, but you can have too much of a good thing. The link between sun and skin cancer.   2014-07-14

A report published in Australia in 2010 revealed that those who live in that country are 13 times more likely to develop skin cancer due to the country’s culture of sunbathing. Australia has the world's highest rate of an aggressive type of skin cancer namely melanoma and one of the highest rates of all forms of skin cancer. It is thought that the reason for this is the country's proximity to Antarctica and the hole in the Ozone Layer over that continent. Scientists believe that more harmful Ultraviolet (UV) light is able to penetrate through the hole via the missing Ozone layer to earth which affects the 'neighbouring' continent Australia.

Here in Britain, according to Cancer Research UK, skin cancer is the fifth most common cancer with 13,348 new cases of malignant melanoma in 2011 and 102,628 new cases of non-malignant melanoma.

With the summer here and many of us already dreaming of slapping on high factor sun screen and soaking up the sun, we bring to the fore the dangers of exposing ourselves to too much sun.

Although sunlight is essential to our health and plays an essential role in the production of vitamin D, too much exposure can be harmful. Excessive exposure to the ultraviolet radiation emitted by the sun may damage our eyesight, play a role in the ageing of our skins, and contribute to the development of skin cancer.


This is a term used to describe a group of cancerous cells that slowly develop in the upper layers of the skin. The two most common types of non-melanoma skin cancers are Basal Cell Carcinoma and Squamous Cell Carcinoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC’s) is the most common type of Non-Melanoma in Caucasians. BCC’s are slow growing, rarely known to spread and if caught in the early stages can be completely cured.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous Cell Carcinoma’s or SCC’s are the second most common type of skin cancer in white or fair skin. As with BCC’s they are slow growing and will only spread if left untreated for a long time.


  • Over exposure to the sun or sunbeds.
  • Fair skin.
  • Since skin cancers develop slowly, the older you are the greater the chance of developing the condition, however young people, particularly babies and toddlers are also at risk.
  • People with a parent who suffered from skin cancer have a greater likelihood of developing the condition.
  • Sufferers of certain skin conditions such as psoriasis, have an increased risk of developing skin cancer


This type of cancer is considered the least common form of skin cancer but it is the most serious and numbers are rising. Melanomas are considered to be twice as common in women as in men in the 15-34 age groups.

Causes & risk factors

  • Fair skin
  • Over exposure to UV rays from the sun or sunbeds.
  • People with an abundance of skin moles or freckles have a higher risk.
  • People who have both fair and ginger hair have an enhanced risk of developing the disease
  • Severe sunburn during childhood.
  • Increased risk for people who have suffered with skin cancer previously and conversely those who have a family history.


To avoid any type of skin cancer it is essential that you enjoy the sun safely.

  1. Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm when the sun is at its hottest.
  2. Seek natural shade in the form of trees or other shelter.
  3. Wear a wide brim hat that protects your ears and neck, and wear long sleeve shirts and long trousers to protect your arms and legs.
  4. Protect your eyes with sunglasses that not only blocks out 100% UVA and UVB rays but also wraps around your eyes.

Added to the above, the traditional advice to sun bathers has been to apply suntan lotion 15 minutes prior to going out in the sun and also any time you sweat or after swimming, even if you are in the shade.

How effective is sun cream?

Does high factor sun cream really protect us from melanomas? A British study published online on 11 June 2014 in 'Nature-The International Weekly Journal' shows that while factor 50 sun cream reduces and delays the onset of melanoma, it only provides partial and not full protection. The researchers accept though that sun cream does protect from squamous cell melanoma.

For many of us sunbathing is one of the pleasures of the summer holidays in an exotic resort. Sun cream does offer protection and we should always make sure to use it as directed, keep in mind however than over exposure can be detrimental so don't overdo it.