LIFE DOCTOR

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Indy Lifestyle Online
ARE YOU sun-aware? You know, sun, that yellow business we don't see much of in this country? If you are unfamiliar with the concept, worry not, for Sun Awareness Week starts tomorrow.

It always struck me as unfair that we should get skin cancer in Britain where it rains all the time. Yet the facts are indisputable. Skin cancer is increasing in this country. Incidence has doubled in the past 15 years.

Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with skin cancer every year, and 2,000 die of it. It is one of the most common cancers among 15- to 35-year-olds. It is also one of the most treatable if identified early, and most preventable. Prevention is very simple. Slap on the high-factor sunscreen, sit in the shade, wear a hat. Particularly keep children out of the sun. For Sun Awareness Week, the Health Education Authority is launching a brochure for schools and has published independent research sponsored by Laboratoires Garnier on teenagers' attitudes.

It seems people are getting more sensible. Eighty-eight per cent of the teenagers knew that sun poses risks to health. Eighty-one per cent use a sunscreen. (As opposed to my generation, of whom 95 per cent would have laid under the grill if it meant looking browner at school on Monday morning.)

Times have changed. No one wants to look like a Frankfurter or a lobster. That said, we still want to look healthy and attractive.

At the initiative's launch, HEA cancer programme manager Stephen Woodward reiterated that every time we face the sun we are causing the skin damage. In an ideal world we should never attempt to tan at all.

And that's the difficult bit. Let's face it, the "pale is interesting" argument just doesn't wash when your natural skin colour, like mine, is green potato.

I'm all for health but looking attractive is important, too. If you don't get a tan how can you wear shorts? I don't want to feature in those "here- comes-summer-and-those-disgusting-white-thighs-on-the-streets" tabloid photo stories.

The HEA's efforts are in consultation with sunbed makers. The Government is trying to get people to use them more moderately, and to stop under- 16s using them at all. But, as I once said to Tessa Jowell, Minister for Public Health, "All the warnings in the world about premature ageing and skin cancer would have been useless when I was 15 and had a spotty back". She agreed, but said we need to get the message across.

Ms Jowell wants use of sunscreen to become as normal for children "as brushing their teeth". It won't be easy. The most sophisticated people stop talking about EMU to say "Aren't you lovely and brown!"

Bitter pills are more inspiring if there is some tangible benefit. As John O'Farrel pointed out in his book Things Can Only Get Better, CND could have been huge if "instead of talking in vague terms about nuclear winters and four-minute warnings we said, 'Look, it's a straight swap. Either keep Trident or have a brand-new video recorder with remote control and 30-day memory. What's it to be?'"

I will try to avoid the sun but can the Government come up with some incentive? Tax breaks for people sitting in the shade maybe? Free cinema tickets between the sun-avoiding hours of 11 and three?

Learning to love pale

1. Ditch friends who tan easily. Surround yourself with pale folk.

2. Keep telling yourself, like a mantra, "pale skin is attractive".

3. Try again with fake tan. Even though it's boring putting it on and you risk having to wear an all-over balaclava if it goes wrong.

4. Get into Australian cricket chic and wear white total sunblock.

5. Pretend you're pallid because of your debauched lifestyle.

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