There was a time when tanned skin was looked down upon, reflecting the hard, outdoor labouring of the working classes.
And then in 1923, Coco Chanel returned from the Rivera with a golden brown complexion and a new fashion was born.
However, as the suntan’s popularity grew over the following decades, so did the scourge of skin cancer - to the point where it is now the most common type of cancer in the world.
Three main forms of skin cancer exist. Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) are both referred to as non-melanoma skin cancers and are less serious than the life-threatening malignant melanoma which can often spread to the lungs, liver and brain.
Whilst BCC and SCC tend to develop more slowly and are associated with your lifetime exposure to sunlight, malignant melanoma develops much faster and is associated with short, intense exposures to sunlight especially those resulting in sunburn.
The common factor to all types of skin cancer is excessive exposure to the ultraviolet radiation in sunlight as well as the light emitted by tanning devices.
Ultraviolet light and skin cancer
There are two main types of ultraviolet ray that damage our skin:
• UVA which penetrates deep into your skin layer causing it to age prematurely
• UVB which is the main cause of sunburn and skin cancer
Despite the claims of some tanning device manufacturers, neither UVA or UVB are safe.
They both cause damage to the DNA inside your skin cells and the longer this is allowed to continue the greater your risk of initiating a skin cancer.
Sunburn is a clear sign that that your skin DNA has been damaged. This doesn’t need to be painful redness or peeling - if your skin has turned red, then you have sunburn and your DNA is damaged.
If you do peel, this means that your skin cells have become so damaged and potentially cancerous that your body has had to destroy and shed them in an attempt to protect itself.
Getting painfully sunburned just once every two years can triple your risk of malignant melanoma.
Staying safe in the sun
Avoidance and protection are by far the two most effective ways of reducing your risk of any type of skin cancer - here are our top suggestions for staying sun-smart:
Out and about
• Try and stay out of the more intense midday sun between 11.00am and 3.00pm
• Stick to shaded areas as much as possible whilst you’re out and about
• Remember that up to 80% of the ultraviolet rays in sunlight can pass straight through light clouds
• Remember also that water, snow, sand and concrete can reflect up to 80% of ultraviolet rays right back at you - especially at high altitudes
• Wear a wide-brimmed hat when you’re out in the sun to shade your head, face and neck
• Protect your skin with loose-fitting clothing that has a tight weave if possible – looser weaves and wet fabrics allow more UV rays through to the skin
• Wear wrap-around sunglasses with an ultraviolet protection rating of at least UV400 to protect your eyes
• Always use suncream with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30 and make sure they protect you against both UVA and UVB radiation
• Apply your suncream to all exposed areas around 20 minutes before going out and re- apply at least every two hours – especially if you’re swimming in the meantime
Sun beds and any other tanning devices
• Quite simply...don’t use them.
• They are not safe, they damage the skin and they will increase your risk of developing skin cancer.