BAD warns people are failing to apply sunscreen correctly, putting lives at risk

Bottle of sunscreen on beach

With temperatures soaring across much of the UK over recent days, millions of us have been digging out our sunglasses, shorts and flip flops and eagerly firing up the barbecue. But have you also stocked up on the sunscreen?

To mark Sun Awareness Week this week (May 9 -15) the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) has revealed findings from its recent survey – and the results make for worrying reading.

BAD says it found a staggering 80% of people are failing to adequately apply sunscreen before venturing out in the sunshine. BAD says that too many people are also unaware that sunscreen needs to be applied around half an hour prior to sun exposure – because the product needs time to be absorbed by the skin in order to achieve the best level of protection.

Foot on sand

Take your time and re-apply regularly

BAD recommends that a second layer of sunscreen is applied shortly after going outside, with further re-application every two hours - or more frequently if you are in and out of water or sweating heavily – even water-resistant varieties of sunscreen are not friction-resistant and can be removed by towelling skin dry, especially if there’s sand involved.

Additionally, time should be taken to ensure all areas of skin that may be exposed to the sun are covered with a good amount of product – do not apply too sparingly. If you wait until you are already at the beach/the park or even on your way to the shops, you’re unlikely to be as thorough as you should be and areas of skin could be missed, resulting in sunburn.

Woman and baby on beach

BAD says that some worrying habits revealed by the survey include:

  • 70% of people fail to re-apply sunscreen every two hours as recommended - sometimes because they are simply unaware that they need to
  • 35% of people said they would only seek out shade if they felt overheated, rather than to avoid sunburn
  • 81% of people said they wear sunglasses to protect their eyes or for fashion purposes, but did not recognise the same need for protective clothing.

Deadly melanoma

All of this is of concern, warns BAD, as the risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer - more than doubles in people with a history of sunburn compared with those who have never been sunburned. A previous BAD survey revealed that 72% of those respondents admitted they had suffered sunburn the previous year.

BAD says skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK, and rates have been increasing since the 1960s. It is thought that the popularity of holidaying abroad and the use of sunbeds may have contributed to this rise. BAD says that every year over 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed, and 13,000 new cases of melanoma, resulting in around 2,148 deaths per year.

Earlier this year, health watchdog the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued revised guidance on sun safety, warning that no amount of tanning is healthy or safe. You can read more about this in our article, no safe way to tan says NICE.

“Education is key”

Johnathon Major of the British Association of Dermatologists says: “These results show just how widely sunscreens are not being used properly by the British public, and highlight an important area for sun awareness campaigns to target. While we have succeeded in making people aware of the link between sunburn and skin cancer, we have more work to do in teaching people how to use sunscreen properly. Education is key if we are going improve sun safety habits and prevent the public from putting themselves at risk.”

Stevie Cameron of La Roche-Posay, sponsors of the campaign, says: “It’s really important that the British public are using the right sunscreen. When choosing a sunscreen, it is important to look for a high SPF value, such as 30 or 50+ that protects against UVB rays. In addition, it is very important to look for a circled UVA logo. This means the sunscreen meets EU requirements for UVA protection, rays that are present all year-round. Today the best sunscreens provide protection against UVB and UVA rays. As for those who do not ‘get on’ with the texture of normal sunscreens – there are textures on the market that are specifically formulated for sensitive, dry or oily and blemish prone skin.”

Woman wearing hate and sunglasses

BAD sun protection tips:

  • Spend time in the shade during the sunniest part of the day when the sun is at its strongest, which is usually between 11am and 3pm in the summer months
  • Avoid direct sun exposure for babies and very young children
  • When it is not possible to stay out of the sun, keeping yourself well covered, with a hat, T-shirt, and sunglasses can give you additional protection
  • Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling in order to maintain protection.

Keeping an eye on your skin

According to BAD, there are two main types of skin cancer: non-melanoma - the most common - and melanoma, which is less common but more dangerous.

The following ABCD-Easy rules show some of the skin or mole changes which may indicate a melanoma:

Asymmetry - the two halves of the area may differ in shape

Border - the edges of the area may be irregular or blurred, and sometimes show notches

Colour - this may be uneven. Different shades of black, brown and pink may be seen

Diameter - most melanomas are at least 6mm in diameter. Report any change in size, shape or diameter to your doctor

Expert - if in doubt, get it checked out.

Any skin changes should be discussed with your GP, who will refer you to a consultant dermatologist if they feel there is any cause for concern.

Non-melanoma skin cancers can occur on any part of the body, but are most common on areas of skin that most often exposed to the sun such as the head and neck (including lips and ears) and the backs of your hands. BAD says they can also appear where the skin has been damaged by X-rays, and on old scars, ulcers, burns and persistent wounds.

Non-melanoma skin cancers vary greatly in appearance. They tend to appear gradually on the skin, and slowly get bigger over time and will not heal or go away without treatment. Warning signs include a scab or sore that won’t heal, a flesh-coloured, pearly lump that won’t go away and appears to be growing in size and a growth with a pearly rim surrounding a central crater, a bit like an upturned volcano.

If you are concerned about any moles, patches of skin or growths on your skin, consult your GP without delay.

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About the author

Georgie Fenn, writes most of our news articles and social media posts.