Professor Gordon McVie, scientific director of the Cancer Research Campaign, said: 'Our research shows holidaymakers abroad are, in the main, following the guidelines for safe sun protection. However, these messages are still failing to get through as many of us misjudge the strength of the sun in Britain. Each year, 40,000 people are treated for the disease. Our priority must be to persuade everybody to cover up and protect themselves in the sun at all times,' he said.
Doctors also expressed concern yesterday that sunbathers are ignoring the risks during the current heatwave, with scores of holidaymakers being treated for burns and blisters in hospital casualty units round the country.
The report by Boots and the Cancer Research Campaign showed that Britons would do anything for a tan. Among its conclusions, they found that Britons were misunderstanding sun-protection guidelines and wrongly using them to increase their tolerance levels of the sun to help them top up their tans; they equated a tanned skin with a healthy skin, despite countless messages from skin cancer experts that the reverse was true; and they mistakenly believed that a tanned skin was a protected skin.
The study, the second stage of a national survey, was conducted by Strathclyde University's Centre for Social Marketing and was based on in-depth discussions with mothers of children under 15 years. Many admitted they did not encourage their children to play safe in the sun, and failed to protect them adequately with reapplied sunscreens, sunglasses, broad brimmed hats and long- sleeved T-shirts.
Yesterday, doctors warned that with temperatures climbing above 25C (77F) it is vital to stay covered up in the sun and that if the skin is exposed people should use a sun tan lotion with a high skin-protection factor. Young children, in particular, need plenty of lotion or better still sun block and those most at risk of malignant melanoma - now totalling an average of 6 million cases every year worldwide - are often those who usually bare their skins for a fortnight in the Mediterranean or tropical sun.
Health experts warn that sunbathing is hazardous for everyone, particularly fair-haired, blue-eyed people who do not have much of the pigment melanin, the skin's natural protection against the effects of the sun.