The sun and your skin: skin cancer and ageing

By Dr. Raquel Amado on the 21st May 2021

Skin cancer and premature ageing probably aren’t the first things that pop into your head when you roll out your beach towel and lay down to catch some rays. But, with the height of summer not too far away, it’s important to remember that the sun can have a huge impact on the health of our skin.

Of course, I’m not saying you can’t enjoy the sun. It’s a great source of vitamin D, which is essential for a healthy body and mind. Plus, I love being out in the sun myself. But UV radiation from sunlight is one of the biggest risk factors not only for premature ageing, but also skin cancer.

As May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, I thought there’s no better time than now to talk about the effects of UV radiation – and how you can protect yourself.

Effects of UV radiation

When it comes to our skin, it’s not just sunburn we have to worry about when we’re out in the sunshine. Excessive sun exposure can have some nasty long-term effects, one of which is premature skin ageing (otherwise known as photoageing).

UV radiation changes our skin at a cellular level, affecting the deepest point – the dermis. That’s why signs of ageing don’t happen immediately, but as we get older, lines and wrinkles begin to increasingly appear. In fact, up to 80% of skin ageing can be attributed to UV radiation.

But wrinkles aren’t the only thing we need to worry about. Excessive sun exposure can lead to something much more serious: skin cancer.

Skin cancer facts

Skin cancer is one of the most common forms of cancer in the UK, and rates are increasing faster than any other cancer. Men and women are equally susceptible, and there a number of risk factors that can play a role in this disease developing.

Overwhelmingly, the single most contributing lifestyle risk factor is significant sun exposure. Around 90% of all skin cancers are caused by over-exposure to UV radiation.

Paler skin types are more prone to skin cancer than skin that has darker pigmentation, and outdoor work, compromised immune systems and incidences of severe sunburn can all increase risk.

There are a number of different types of skin cancer, including squamous and basal cell carcinomas. However, melanoma is often considered the deadliest form, as it has the tendency to spread.

Each of these cancers can present differently, so it’s important to check your skin regularly. Look out for any changes in the size and shape of moles, rashes or raised areas that develop and don’t go away, or any developing lumps or growths.

But it’s not all bad news. According to Cancer Research UK, 86% of melanoma skin cancer cases are preventable.

Protecting your skin

So how can we help reduce our risk of skin cancer and premature ageing?

No one wants to avoid the sun entirely, but there are certain things you can do to lessen your exposure to harmful UV rays.

First of all, avoid sunbeds at all costs. Even if you tan easily, this sort of direct exposure to UV radiation for extended periods of time is terrible for the health of your skin, and a huge risk factor for skin cancer. Getting a fake tan is so much safer, and there are some great options available. This includes having it professionally done at a tanning salon, or in the comfort of your own bathroom using an at-home kit.

Alternatively, in clinic, I offer a fantastic tanning lotion with an impressive SPF of 50. It achieves natural-looking results by gradually building a tan – so please get in touch if this is something you’re interested in.

Stay in the shade wherever possible, and wear sunglasses and hats to shield yourself when in the sun. Try to avoid being in the sun for long periods when it’s at its hottest – usually between 10am and 4pm.

Never forget your sunscreen

The most important thing – and it’s something you’ve probably heard me say a million times by now – ALWAYS wear sunscreen!

Make sure you check the label and use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of at least 30. Reapply every two hours, as well as after things like heavy exercise or swimming.

And when I say always wear sunscreen, I mean always! That means during the winter months as well as the summer.

UV rays are hitting your skin all year round. Even when it’s cold, overcast and you’re bundled up in your coat and scarf, skin that isn’t covered – such as the delicate skin of your face – is still being exposed to UV radiation.

This is why we should always be applying sunscreen during our skincare regime every morning. There are special sunscreens that are designed specifically for the face, which have a high SPF number and which are still gentle on the skin.

I personally use a powder sunscreen that gives me great UV protection. It’s skin-sensitive and easy to combine into my daily skincare regime. Again, please get in touch if this is something you’re interested in.

The effects of the sun on our skin can be scary, but there are so many things we can all be doing to reduce our risk. Always carry sunscreen with you, and if you see a friend or family member going in the sun without it, you’ll be prepared!

For advice on how to protect yourself from premature ageing and skin cancer in Kings Hill, West Malling, and the surrounding areas, get in touch for a consultation today!

Get in touch today!