Looking after your skin in the sun

May is skin cancer awareness month, a timely reminder to us all to protect our skin from the sun’s potentially harmful rays. Dr Suneeta Kochhar, skin specialist at Cooden Medical Group, has some advice.

The sun gives off two types of ultra violet (UV) rays: UVB rays are those that burn and tan the skin, while UVA rays penetrate through the epidermis (top layer) of our skin into the dermis, causing permanent damage to its structure. Both types of rays can cause visible damage to the skin such as:

Wrinkles and sagging – the UV rays damage the skin’s elastin and collagen which keeps the skin taut and supple. Without these tissues, the skin will sag and wrinkles will appear, particularly on the face.

Sun spots and patches of discoloration – melanin is the pigment that causes us to tan and is produced by the skin to protect itself from the sun’s rays. But spending too much time in the sun may cause you to develop darker patches where uneven amounts of melanin have been produced.

Broken blood vessels – the UV rays can damage blood vessels, causing a reddening of the skin, on the face in particular.

However, while these symptoms are not desirable, they are usually benign, but the sun can also cause more serious conditions, like skin cancer. The British Society of Dermatologists recommends checking yourself once a month for moles or patches of skin that are growing, changing shape or colour, inflamed or red around the edges, start bleeding or itching or behaving unusually. If you spot anything that you are unsure about, then you should visit your GP as soon as possible. The good news is that most skin cancers are treatable, particularly if caught in the early stages.

Of course, prevention is better than cure, so to safely enjoy being outdoors in the sun, protect yourself by:

Using a high factor sun cream that offers UVA and UVB protection.

Checking to make sure it’s within its use-by date as sun creams lose their protective qualities with age.

Applying sun cream liberally before going out in the sun and re-applying frequently, especially before and after swimming or after exercise. Remember that water amplifies the sun’s rays, so while you might feel nice and cool in the pool, your skin may not be protected. Most people don’t apply enough sun cream.

Wearing sunglasses – not only will they protect your eyes and the delicate skin around them, they will also make it easier to see in the bright light – the more you have to squint, the more likely you are to develop wrinkles and crows’ feet.

Staying out of direct sun in the middle of the day and wearing sun protective clothing. If you are on holiday the middle of the day is a good time for a leisurely lunch, but sometimes being outside is unavoidable. If this happens then cream up, cover up and wear a broad-brimmed hat.

Dr Suneeta Kochhar is a GP with a special interest in dermatology. She runs a private skin clinic at Cooden Medical Group for consultations about moles and other skin blemishes.

Her service includes an initial examination and consultation, which includes a full body check to rule out any other areas of concern. The consultation explores the different options for treatment and if appropriate, a follow up consultation after the procedure. All excisions are sent for histology and your GP will be informed of the results.