Girl at beach
Lynn Baiori presents a guide to safely enjoying the sunny weather in Barcelona.
Everything our parents said was good is bad.
It is now common knowledge that you should wear sunscreen in summer. Yet, many people still believe that a little sun tan is a sign of good health. After all, most of us spent our childhood carefree, beneath the sun. “Everything our parents said was good is bad…sun, milk, red meat, college,” jokes Woody Allen in the film Annie Hall. And while it is true that we need a certain amount of sun exposure in order for our bodies to produce vitamin D, it is essential to take protective measures to safeguard our skin from overexposure. Once burned, mutations to skin cells are irreversible. The World Health Organisation has identified UV as a proven human carcinogen.
Suntans and sunburns increase your risk of developing skin cancer and are a sign of damage at the cellular level. UV rays are at their strongest between the hours of 10am-4pm, so sun exposure at these hours should be avoided when possible. When you do go out, make sure you are practising safe sun techniques.
Remember: once damaged, your skin cells don’t forget.
UV or not-UV
The UV index measures the level of Ultra-violet radiation on any given day. A UV rating between 1 and 2 is very low and special sun protection is not considered necessary. But an index level between 3-5 presents moderate health risk, while a level of 6-7 is high, 8-10 is very high and an index of 11 and above is extreme.
According to the British website, Weather On Line: "The UV Index does not exceed 8 in the UK (8 is rare; 7 may occur on exceptional days, mostly in the two weeks around the summer solstice). Indices of 9 and 10 are common in the Mediterranean area."
Remember: check the local UV radiation index before going out, taking the proper precautions when the risk is moderate to high. Here are just two sights that offer current index information:
Children are at the highest risk.
It has been show that children up to the age of 18 are most at risk for dangerous overexposure to the sun, and that 80 percent of harmful solar radiation is accumulated in our skin cells before the age of 18. According to Dr. Santiago García-Tornel, noted pediatrician and former chief of Barcelona’s children’s hospital, Sant Joan de Déu, “Before the ages of 4-5 years, a child’s skin has not developed all the mechanisms necessary to protect it,” putting very young children at even higher risk for the dangerous effects of UV exposure. Damage to young, developing skin can have serious consequences later in life.
And according to The Skin Cancer Foundation, “A new study has revealed an alarming rise in melanoma among people aged 18 to 39.”
Remember: Children and young adults are more vulnerable to the effects of UV radiation. Regarding overexposure, The European Code Against Cancer recommends that ‘It is specifically important to protect children and adolescents.’
The sun reaches beyond the beaches.
Walking around the street, even on a cloudy day, exposes you to potential over-exposure to harmful UV rays, so sun protection is necessary on and off the beach. Most people put a bit of cream on before tanning but it doesn’t last all day. Suncream ideally should be applied half an hour before sun exposure and it needs to be reapplied every two hours, more when sweating or swimming. Be careful to apply copius amounts, not missing any areas of skin. Be sure to check the expiration date of your suncream.
Wearing a good pair of sunglasses is important as cancer can develop in and around the eye. Cheap sunglasses without strong UV protection actually do more harm than good.
It is recommended to use at least a SPF 30 (there is little difference in effectiveness above 30), and put on sun protective clothing, especially on young skin and at-risk skin. It is a myth that dark skin is a guarantee against skin cancer.
Remember: Avoid being in the sun during peak hours but if you are out, keep to the shade, wear appropriate clothing and remember to reapply suncream.
Not all skin cancers are equal
Skin cancers can be divided into two groups: melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Non-melanoma cancers include: Basal Cell Carcinoma, the most common, and Squamous Cell Carcinoma (Actinic Keratosis is a precancerous condition that may delevop into squamous cell carcinoma). Prolonged lifetime exposure increases the risk of developing these cancers, and we are seeing a rise in cases of skin cancer later in life.
Malignant melanoma is the least common but most dangerous form of skin cancer. It can go unnoticed, spreading quickly to other areas of the body. If not detected and treated in the early stages, survival rates are tragically low.
Tanning beds should be avoided. People who use tanning beds are at an even higher risk for developing skin cancer, with an increased risk for young people as high as 75 percent greater for developing melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer.
Remember: Tanning is a sign that you have done damage to skin cells, which can lead to premature aging and various forms of skin cancer, including melanoma, a highly deadly form of cancer. Make sure to visit your dermatologist regularly, especially if you find any suspicious looking moles or skin discolouration.
The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center has an excellent site for learning more about protecting you and your family from the risk of skin cancer. Information can also be found on the Skin Cancer Foundation site and others noted below:
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: mdanderson.org
Skin Cancer Foundation: skincancer.org
ECL-Association of European Cancer Leagues: europeancancerleagues.org
Melanoma Research Foundation: melanoma.org
Dr. Santiago García-Tornell: drgarcia-tornel.blogspot.com
The Mayo Clinic: mayoclinic.com
Oxford Journal-Annals of Oncology: annonc.oxfordjournals.org
Weather On Line: Weatheronline.co.uk
UV Awareness: Uvawareness.com