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Here comes the sun - life force or life destroyer ?                  Archive


Heather Redmond 3.jpg (4733 bytes)Heather Redmond gets under the skin on the subject of sunbathing


During the darkest months of the year when the sun is in short supply what do we dream about? Lying in the sun, on a palm-fringed beach, beside a sparkling sea with a glowing suntanned body. Many people, despite growing awareness of the dangers, bring this fantasy to reality every year. ‘It won’t happen to me’ is alive and kicking.


Why do people sunbathe?


To look more attractive, that's why.  According to a recent survey of attitudes to suntans conducted by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, vanity plays a lethal part, as does fashion. A majority of the population think that a light suntan gives us a healthy look and the celeb scene is still littered with bronzed, lean bodies.


Who chooses to tan and when?


Weekend bingeing in the sun is favoured by more than one in five adults who use low factor sun screen or none at all. This often takes place just before a holiday with the mistaken idea that a sun tan protects from the sun, a concept presumably based on the out-dated notion that once brown you don't burn. Around 47% of holidaymakers will go to a hot climate in order to achieve a tan.  Three quarters of us like to have a tan at some time during the year, and nearly a quarter go for the year round brown look.

 'A suntan shows that the skin is being damaged by too much sunlight and is trying to protect itself.’ says Dr Charlotte Proby, Consultant Dermatologist at Imperial Cancer Research Fund.


Which age-group goes for the bronze?


You may think this is a preoccupation of the young, but the statistics show otherwise: though 58% of 15-34 year olds sunbathe, as many as 51% aged 55 and over also do so. A depressing score for those of us who thought that wisdom grew with age.

The experience of severe sunburn, a skin cancer scare or knowing someone with skin cancer does put people off. Nevertheless, there are still those for whom a need for the bronzed and beautiful look overrides the worry of turning into an early wrinkly or risking an early demise.


What are the harmful effects of sunbathing?


Skin cancer is the commonest form of cancer in the UK and ultraviolet radiation from the sun the biggest risk factor. While  UVB rays cause sunburn, it is the UVA rays that penetrate the skin and cause irreversible damage. There are two types of skin cancer.  The non-melanoma type can usually be treated successfully. Melanoma skin cancer is less common but more serious and potentially fatal. In both cases the number of new cases diagnosed each year is increasing.

Sun damage has a slow cumulative effect, and apart from the changing appearance of moles is invisible. While non-melanoma takes longer to develop, around 40 years, melanoma starts to kick in during early adulthood and peaks in the 30s-40s age groups.


What are the best ways to protect ourselves?


When we go out into the sun, we need our hat, beach umbrella, thin but opaque cover up clothes, sunglasses with UV protection and of course a jumbo bottle of sun screen of at least SPF 15 and a 4-star UVA rating.   Check on the bottle when you buy.  An alarm clock set to go off at two-hourly intervals will act as a reminder to re-apply generous amounts of sun screen, if you are on the beach.  Apply even more often if you are in and out of the water.


Do sunscreens have a shelf life?


Quite a long shelf one says Dr Proby. She reckons they last around three years.  But if contents are watery and lumpy when squeezed, chuck it.


When are the safest times to sunbathe (if you must)?


Early-ish in the morning before the sun is at full blast is safest.  Begin a long leisurely lunch around eleven followed by a siesta and then you can go back on the beach for afternoon tea at three.  Don't be misled by clouds on a bright day. The damaging rays can still get through.


How to check your moles


Moles are common and change is normally slow, so rapidity of change is the chief indicator of risk. Any change in shape, size or colour noted over a period of about six weeks should be reported to your doctor.

Remember, tanned skin is damaged skin, so why not join the 17% who say they wouldn’t tan if natural skin colour became fashionable. However, if you are addicted to looking tanned, choose from the new self-tan products for face and body widely available.  They are easy to apply and look the part.


Look out for new sun protection from Vichy


Vichy Laboratories, in partnership with the British Skin Foundation and Imperial Cancer Research, have launched a campaign for sun protection.  Vichy produce a range of hypoallergenic skin products and their newest is Sunblock Spray SPF30- UVA16, 9.95 per 150 ml, available from chemists countrywide, which they claim will give deep down skin-penetrating protection.

Vichy are also offering a free suncare diagnosis which can assess the skin's natural levels of protection and point to the most suitable level of  screening needed.

A team of dermatological nurses and pharmacists will be touring selected Boots stores and individual pharmacies during June 2001.

To view previous articles in this series - see the laterlife-interest index page



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