Dr Miriam McCarthy, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, explained: “Many people may not be aware of the risk of sunburn during winter months but it is important to take steps to protect your skin from the winter sun. The sun can cause permanent damage to our skin at any time of the year. Just one episode of sunburn, especially in childhood, doubles the lifetime risk of malignant melanoma, the most serious form of skin cancer.
“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 at Cancer Focus NI, 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 snow and water 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 and enjoy winter sun and ski holidays safely.”
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 winter sun with sunglasses and clothing that protects against UV rays.
- Use sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 15 for UVB protection and 4 star for UVA protection. Apply liberally 30 minutes before going out in the sun and don’t forget your head, neck and ears. Re-apply at least every two 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 NI free information and support helpline on 0800 783 3339 or email one of the nurses on helpline @cancerfocusni.org You can also visit the websites www.cancerfocusni.org or www.careinthesun.org