Did you know that over 80% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to the sun and/or sunbeds, making the majority of all skin cancers preventable with sun safety measures.
In the UK many of us are unaware of the risks associated with sun exposure, with skincare cancer education being minimal. This is something national skin cancer charity, Skcin, set out to change since they started in 2006.
Skcin firmly believes that to reverse the soaring rates of skin cancer, education on a national level is paramount. By targeting key higher risk groups via bespoke initiatives, they not only work toward the prevention of over 80% of all skin cancer cases but also promote the vital early detection of the disease.
We spoke to British Beauty Council Affiliate Skcin’s founder Marie Tudor, about the various levels of SPF, the importance of wearing sunscreen even on cloudy days, ways to regularly check your skin for early warning signs of skin cancer, and much more.
1 – There’s a lot of debate on the different levels of SPF and whether you should wear an SPF15, 30, or 50? Please would you be able to explain to us a bit more about the different SPF factors?
The important point to remember is that some protection is better than no protection. The market place is flooded with sun cream products all making claims and advertising statements. It can be hard to the consumer to navigate what exactly they should be looking for when buying a suncream.
The SPF rating is one of the most important factors to consider.
SPF, which stands for sun protection factor, is a relative measure of how long a sunscreen will protect you from UV rays. “[This number is] based on the minimal erythema dose (MED). This is how long you can stay in the sun before you start to burn.”
So, if you’re fair-skinned and that goes pink after around 10 minutes, your MED is 10. Multiply your MED by the SPF factor, and you’ll gauge the length of time it will technically be before that burn starts to make an appearance (Eg: MED 10 x SPF 30 = 300 mins).
Skcin recommends SPF 30 as there is masses of clinical evidence to prove that we do not apply sun cream adequately and don’t apply nowhere near enough. SPF 30 is the most common level for most people and skin types. No sunscreen can block all UV rays, but what we do know is: SPF 15 blocks 93% of UVB rays, SPF 30 blocks 97% of UVB rays and SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB rays. So, the difference between 30 and 50 is about 1 percent.
Equally, as much as consumers look for SPF levels, they also need to look for broad-spectrum suncream. Broad-spectrum sunscreen products can only be labelled “broad spectrum” if they have been tested and shown to protect against both UVA and UVB rays. UVA rays penetrate deep into the dermis, the skin’s thickest layer. Unprotected exposure can lead to premature skin aging and wrinkling (photoaging), and suppression of the immune system. UVB rays will usually burn the superficial layers of your skin. It plays a key role in the development of skin cancer. Look for products that carry the UVA symbol in their packaging. This applies to products sold in the EU.
2 – Should we only apply SPF when it’s sunny? And how much per area should we be applying?
This is a big misconception. The UV rays that burn the skin are not related to the temperature, this is why you can get sunburnt on a cloudy day. The key fact to remember is the UV level, when the UV level reaches 3 or above you should be using sun cream. UV levels are reported by the met office, in weather reports, or via our skcin web page www.skcin.org. The UV levels are forecasts and can vary upon your location. Many dermatologists are recommending using a daily moisturiser that contains a SPF. Skin damage from the sun is the primary cause of aging, so a good daily moisturiser with SPF is the best anti-aging intervention.
67% of British people don’t use enough sun cream, with 44% using less than half of the recommended amount. You are supposed to use six teaspoons or more of sun cream for your entire body. Many people miss the back of the neck, tops, and their ears or the back of legs This equates to around four 200ml bottles per adult per week!
Given as I mentioned early that we don’t apply enough sun cream, we need to apply suncream liberally and every 2 hours and importantly 20 mins before going outside.
3 – Mineral vs. Chemical: What is the difference and is there a more effective one?
Chemical sunscreens work by chemical reaction, light hits the skin — and the chemicals — and the UV energy is turned into heat, which is then dissipated.
Some of the most common ingredients in chemical sunscreens include oxybenzone, homosalate, avobenzone, and octisalate.
Mineral-based sunscreens are generally described as reflecting rays (rather than absorbing).
In the U.K you’ll find mineral sunscreens that use one of two active ingredients. “You can get them in different formulations, but [these] are essentially made up of titanium oxide or zinc oxide.”
So which one should you choose? Mineral suncream leaves more of white residue on the skin. Chemical sunscreens can irritate and might not be the best option if you have sensitive skin. There’s some evidence to suggest that certain chemicals are bad for the skin, but as with any aspect of health intervention the risks vs benefit is down the individual. Skcin believes the risks of skin cancer far out way the risk from chemical absorption through the skin, everyone needs to use sun cream. After that, we recommend that you find an SPF 30 broad factor suncream that you like the feel of and ease of application, so you are more likely to use it regularly. We find suncream choices are very personal to the individual.
3 – We are all routinely told to check our bodies for changes, as a precaution to early signs of cancer. What are the signs we should be looking for when it comes to changes in our skin regarding skin cancer?
Skin checking is so important!
Skin cancer cases have increased by 45% in the last decade and skin cancer is the 5th most common cancer and is the biggest killer in the 15- 34 age group. These figures are shocking and they are a real concern, and why our charity is dedicated to education and raising awareness of skin cancer. Many assume skin cancer is not serious and it can be just be cut out. This is not the case. Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer kills 7 people a day. Just over 16,000 people a year get diagnosed with melanoma. Cancer can spread from a tiny mole in the blood stream and to the lymph nodes and metastasise elsewhere in the body with no physical symptoms. Treatments can be surgery and expensive immunotherapy treatment that does not work for everyone. And for those with non-melanoma skin cancer, surgery is the most common form of treatment which can cause disfigurement, discomfort and distress. It’s predicted that non-melanoma skin cancer cases will reach 380K annually by 2024.
But there is some good news, 86% of skin cancers are preventable by adopting sun safe habits we can help prevent the disease in the first place. Early detection the sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better chance of survival in the case of the most serious melanoma or other skin cancer, potential disfigurement or even death.
For this reason, we recommend people get into the habit of checking their skin monthly –
- Skin cancers seldom hurt and are much more frequently seen than felt.
- Get to know your skin and what is normal for you so you can easily identify changes. Undress completely, make sure you have a good light and use a mirror/ or get someone to help check you hard to see spots.
- Make sure you check your entire body, for example, soles of the feet, between fingers, ears, toes and under nails and parts of the body not exposed to the sun. We recommend you take photos to help you track any suspicious or odd legions. We then recommend the following guidelines.
The ABCDE of mole checking is a common screening tool used to compare the characteristics of normal moles versus that of skin cancer or potential melanoma.
A – Asymmetry: when two halves of the mole don’t match each other.
B – Border: when the borders are irregular, ragged or blurred.
C – Colour: when the colour changes or varies throughout and there appears to be no uniform pigmentation.
D – Diameter: when the diameter is greater than 6 mm or could be smaller.
E – Evolving: changes in the mole of variable time weeks/months when the legion or mole may become itchy, oozing or bleeding and peeling.
If you notice a combination of characteristics appearing on the mole or legions we recommend you contact your GP immediately, see a private dermatologist & download the My Skin Doctor app.
4 – Please can you give us your top 5 tips for making sure we are all safe in the sun?
The power of prevention can saves lives. We advocate our five S’s for sun safety, they include:
SLIP – on protective clothing, especially for cover on the shoulders or neck.
SLOP – on an SPF 30 broad-spectrum, UVA labeled suncream, apply liberally and 20 mins before going outside and reapply every two hours.
SLAP – on a wide-brimmed hat to shade the face.
SLIDE – on quality sunglasses. Look for the European CE kite mark which indicates a safe level of protection. Ensure they are close-fitting and wrap round to stop solar UVR entering the sides and the top. Remember price and darkness of the lens have no refection of quality of protection.
SHADE – seek shade from the sun, particularly at the hottest time of the day, 11 am -3 pm. Keep toddlers and babies in the shade at all times. Never rely on shade alone.