At its best, summer in London means beer gardens, rooftop bars, BBQs in the park – any chance to soak up the UK’s rare few days of sunshine isn’t to be missed. And that’s before jetting off to sunnier climes for a fortnight’s rest and relaxation in proper Mediterranean heat.
But, tempting as it is to bask unprotected in 30 degree sunshine, deep down we all know it’s not a good move. Rates of melanoma skin cancer are sadly higher than ever in the UK, up on average 360 per cent since the 1970s, according to statistics provided by Cancer Research. And it’s hitting men the hardest. Rates have increased by 544 per cent, in comparison to 263 per cent for women, making it the 5th most common cancer for men in the UK.
There are several factors that contribute to the risk to men being significantly higher. Working outdoors, biological factors and behavioral complications can all have an impact. While you can’t do anything about your occupation or gender biology, you can act to minimise the risk – 86 per cent of melanoma skin cancer cases in the UK are easily prevented, according to Cancer Research UK.
For Dr Christian Aldridge, Consultant Dermatologist and representative of skin cancer charity Melanoma UK, some men’s ‘macho’ approach to sunscreen application is putting them at risk, especially if they spend long hours outside for their job.
‘Most people use about half the amount of sunscreen than is recommended’
‘The number one mistake men make with regards to sun protection is not to wear any in the first place,’ Dr Aldridge explains. ‘Historically, we know that women are much better at applying sunscreen than men and this is evident in the fact that there are still higher rates of melanoma in men than in women. Also, men have traditionally worked in occupations with a high degree of environmental exposure – working outside on building sites, for instance. This puts men at risk of burning frequently, and raises their cancer risk in the long term.’
Matthew Gass, spokesperson for the British Association of Dermatologists, agrees, but adds that men should increase the amount of sunscreen they wear when they do put it on – and pay attention to one area in particular. ‘Most people use about half the amount of sunscreen than is recommended,’ he says. Also, ‘for men, a common mistake is not being vigilant with bald spots. The skin on the head tends to be more sensitive than other parts of our body. It’s not uncommon to see quite a lot of sun damage on the heads of bald men.’
But, whether you spend your hours in the sun working outside, or relaxing in a pub garden after a tough day at the office, his advice is to be hyper-vigilant. ‘You need a three-pronged approach to sun protection,’ he explains. ‘Make use of shade between 11am and 3pm, wear protective clothing, and use a sunscreen with a minimum SPF of 30, and good UVA protection. Make sure to reapply sunscreen every two hours, or after swimming. Protective clothing includes hats, t-shirts and sunglasses, among other things.’
Put like that it seems simple, but it’s worth remembering to put yourself and your skin first this summer. We all enjoy spending time in the sun – but you can have too much of a good thing.
For more information: cancerresearchuk.org, bad.org.uk, melanomauk.org.uk, christianaldridge.co.uk