Skin Cancer Awareness Month: 5 things a skin cancer surgeon wants you to know about sun protection

Dr Antony Nakhla warns about the dangers of UV exposure. By Katie Wright.

Katie Wright
Monday 01 May 2023 08:00 BST
It’s important to use enough sunscreen and reapply frequently (Alamy/PA)
It’s important to use enough sunscreen and reapply frequently (Alamy/PA)

The most common form of cancer in the UK, skin cancer kills more than 3,200 people each year, with at least 172,000 diagnoses each year according to the British Skin Foundation.

There are two main types: melanoma and non-melanoma. While melanoma is less common, it’s also more deadly, and stats from Cancer Research show that the vast majority of cases (86%) are preventable.

“Skin cancer is the result of mutations in skin cell DNA from exposure to UV light and other carcinogens,” explains Dr Antony Nakhla, skin cancer surgeon and founder of skincare brand Eighth Day.

“Skin cancers can also occur from a genetic predisposition, where mutated skin cells rapidly divide and grow into tumours.”

That’s why it’s so important to be aware of the risk factors – and why Sun Awareness Week (May 1 to 7) is held annually.

Here, Nakhla sets out five things he wants everyone to know about staying protected and preventing skin cancer…

1. Make sure kids are protected

“The majority of sun damage occurs in childhood, which manifests as skin cancer later in life,” Nakhla says. “Thus, it is crucial to protect children from sunburns and overexposure to sun.”

Parents should use SPF 50 on kids – or better yet keep them covered with UV protection clothing when they’re in the sun.

During summer or while on holiday, it’s best to stay in the shade when UV rays are strongest, from 11am to 3pm.

2. Use plenty of sun block

Sunscreen should be applied at least 15 minutes before any sun exposure – and don’t scrimp on the lotion.

“It is important to not only wear sunscreen, but to wear enough of it,” Nakhla says.

As a rough guide, he advises: “A teaspoon for the face. A full shot glass for the body.”

3. Reapply regularly

It’s not enough to slather yourself in sunblock first thing in the morning then forget about it.

“Reapplication is key when extended hours are planned in the sun,” Nakhla says.

“One should reapply every two hours or so, depending on activities – swimming, volleyball or other sweaty activities may require more frequent reapplication.”

4. Don’t underestimate the risk

“While lighter skin types are more prone to developing skin cancer, all skin types can develop skin cancer, including the deadliest type – melanoma,” Nakhla explains.

Whatever your skin type, you should still use sunscreen and never let skin burn.

5. If in doubt, check it out

This is the mantra of skin cancer specialists who recommend keeping an eye on moles (especially if you have a lot), watching out for any changes in shape, size, colour or texture.

If in doubt, consult your GP, who may refer your to a specialist for further investigation.

Nakhla says: “A yearly skin exam by a board-certified dermatologist is critical for early detection and early treatment, particularly for those who have a family history.”

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