Sunscreen is one holiday essential that often gets left behind when people pack for a winter holiday. The Public Health Agency (PHA) and Cancer Focus Northern Ireland are reminding travellers not to forget about sunscreen during their winter get-away.
Whether you are heading to the ski slopes or jetting off for some winter rays, it is important to stay safe in the sun during your break.
Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine, PHA, explained: “Many people may not be aware of the risk of sunburn during winter months but it is important to take appropriate steps to protect your skin from the winter sun.
“Research shows that, over recent years, there has been an increase in cases of malignant melanoma, the least common but most serious form of skin cancer. This type of cancer is linked to sun exposure and the number of cases in Northern Ireland has almost trebled in the past 25 years. To protect against malignant melanoma it is best to avoid the sun, cover up or apply sunscreen.
“Everyone is at risk of sun damage therefore it is vitally important that all of us take the necessary steps to protect ourselves and actively reduce the risks of skin cancer.”
Despite the fact that it’s chilly up in the mountains and you’re surrounded by snow, this is one of the places that you’re most likely to get sunburned and suffer from skin damage. This is also the case for winter sun seekers – just because it is off-peak does not mean that the sun is any less harmful.
Marbeth Ferguson, Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy Co-ordinator, Cancer Focus, said: “You don’t need to be sunbathing to get skin cancer – it is over-exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) which can cause serious damage over time. It is important for everyone to avoid getting sunburned, and this is particularly important for children.
“UV radiation from the sun can cause skin damage, even on cloudy days. Be careful of sand, water and snow which can reflect the sun’s rays. Also the higher altitude of ski resorts means increased intensity of UV radiation.”
“As well as skin cancer UVR also causes skin damage, aging, wrinkling and eye damage, so it is vital to take the necessary measures to protect yourself to safely enjoy sport and other outdoor activities.”
There are a number of top tips to increase the chances of keeping skin healthy and young looking:
- Seek shade and avoid prolonged exposure when the sun is at its strongest – generally 11am to 3pm.
- Cover up in the sun with a T-shirt, sunglasses and a hat that protect against UV rays.
- Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection and 4 star for UVA protection. Apply liberally 30mins before going out in the sun. Don’t forget your head, neck and ears and re-apply at least every 2 hours.
- Check regularly for any changes to moles.
- Take extra care with children as their skin is often more sensitive and easily burned.
If you are concerned about any aspect of cancer call the Cancer Focus Northern Ireland free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the nurses on firstname.lastname@example.org You can also visit the websites www.cancerfocusni.org or www.careinthesun.org
Notes to the editor
- Skin cancer is the most common cancer in Northern Ireland and accounts for 28% of all cancers diagnosed here – around 2,500 people develop it each year. While most skin cancers are not malignant the most severe form, malignant melanoma, can be a potentially life threatening condition, particularly if not diagnosed in the early stages.
- It is important to check skin regularly for suspected skin cancers. Check the whole body as skin cancer can occur in places not normally exposed to the sun. Be aware of any new spots, or existing spots that have changed colour, size or shape. A skin cancer may be a spot that bleeds easily, never heals properly or is always itchy. If an unusual spot is identified, show this to a doctor. Most skin cancers can be treated successfully if treated early.
- The PHA is the lead organisation for the implementation of the Skin Cancer Prevention Strategy and Action Plan 2011-2021 launched in July 2011.
- Building on the work of the former Northern Ireland Melanoma Implementation Group (NIMSIG), a Skin Cancer Strategy Implementation Group, jointly chaired by the PHA and Cancer Focus NI, has been established to take forward the six objectives contained in the Strategy and Action Plan.