Consultant Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeon

Sun Protection

It is important to protect the skin from excessive sun exposure, if one wants to reduce the chance of skin cancer.

While abroad, a high sun factor cream should be used. I advise factor 50 on the face, and factor 30 on the body. It should be applied generously and regularly.

Sunburnt FaceIn Ireland, sun protection is advised, and not just on sunny days. It is the overall accumulation of the sun’s rays, over a number of years which contributes to skin cancer. Even on cloudy days one is getting UVA and UVB rays, both of which can cause skin cancer.  Those with outdoor occupations or hobbies such as cycling, sailing, golf, walking are strongly recommended to use year-round daily sun protection.

Which Sun protection should I use?

There are many reuptable brands available. You should check that it protects against both UVA (the Aging rays) and against UVB (the Burning rays), both of which contribute to Skin Cancer. After that, the choice is often on personal preference for a cream, a milk or and oil based product. The different brands have different textures and different smells. One can buy a product primarily designed for Sun Protecion, but many moisturisers now contain sun protection ingredients and can be less greasy and more user-friendly in the winter months in Ireland. The use of a hat, sunglasses and long-sleeves as a barrier is advised.

What does SPF mean?

SPF means Sun Protection Factor. It indicates how much protection is given by the product. For example, an SPF 8, means you can stay in the sun 8 times longer before you burn. An SPF 30 means you can stay 30 times longer. In practice this means that in the tropics, where Irish skin might burn in 15 minutes, using SPF 8 would allow you stay 15 minutes x 8 = 120 minutes before burning, or 2 hours. But SPF 30 allows you 15 minutes x30=450 minutes, or 7.5 hours before burning.

However, skin cancer can develop from long-term low grade sun exposure of UVA and UVB, not just the burning UVB rays, so protection should be used even whenthere is little of no risk of burning if one wants to limit the chance of skin cancer. Using sun protection also limits the aging effects of the sun.

What about Vitamin D Deficiency if I use sun protection?

Everyone needs Vitamin D for stong bones and muscle. Happily it is readily available in the regular dietry intake of most of the population. It is also made from sunlight, but the body needs very little sunlight to manufacture sufficient vitamin D, and it can be stored for 30-60 days. The World Health Organisation advice is to get 5 to 15 minutes of casual sun exposure to hands, face and arms two to three times a week during the summer months. Its likely that most of us get this, even in the winter, walking to the shops or school, waiting for a bus, walking to the car park. Extra time outdoors doesn’t equal more vitamin D, but it does increase skin cancer risk (See More). The incidence of Vitamin D deficiency in Ireland is much lower than the incicdence of skin cancer in Ireland which affects at least 4 out of 10 people.