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Brits’ slapdash approach to sunscreen putting lives at risk
Eight out of ten people are failing to adequately apply sunscreen before going out in the sun, according to a survey carried out by the British Association of Dermatologists to mark Sun Awareness Week (9th-15th May).
The poll found that 80 per cent of us don’t apply sunscreen before going out in the sun and then shortly afterwards. This is the approach recommended for three key reasons of which the public should be aware: to make sure that the product is fully absorbed before skin is exposed to sun, to help reduce the chances of areas of skin being missed, and to ensure a thick enough layer is applied.
The survey also found that 70 per cent of people fail to reapply sunscreen every two hours as recommended.
This confusion over how, or when, to apply sunscreen goes some way to explaining the fact that in a previous survey by the British Association of Dermatologists, 72 per cent of people admitted that they had been sunburned in the previous year.*
Other potentially bad habits also came to light as 35 per cent of people surveyed would only seek shade if they were hot, rather than to avoid burning.
Of all forms of protective clothing, sunglasses were by far the most popular, worn by 81 per cent of people, suggesting that people are more concerned with protecting their eyes than their skin, or wear them for reasons of fashion.
All of this is of concern given that the risk of developing melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer - more than doubles in people with a history of sunburn compared with people who have never been sunburned.
Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the UK and rates have been climbing since the 1960s. Every year over 250,000 new cases of non-melanoma skin cancer – the most common type – are diagnosed, in addition to over 13,000 new cases of melanoma, resulting in around 2,148 deaths annually.
Johnathon Major of the British Association of Dermatologists said: “Sunscreens are an important part of good sun safety practices, though they must be applied properly for them to be effective. Applying liberally half an hour before going out into the sun, and then again shortly after going outside, is vital to ensure that you are fully covered and that the sunscreen has had time to be absorbed into the skin. It should then be reapplied at least every two hours, as the protective filters can break down over time. It should also be reapplied after any activity where it might be accidentally removed, such as swimming. Water-resistant sunscreens are not friction-resistant, and therefore they can be accidentally removed if you towel dry after swimming or sweating.
“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 said: “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.”
Sun protection tips:
1. 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.
2. Avoid direct sun exposure for babies and very young children.
3. 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.
4. Apply sunscreen liberally to exposed areas of skin. Re-apply every two hours and straight after swimming or towelling in order to maintain protection.
Checking for skin cancer:
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 you a few changes that might indicate a 'melanoma', which is the deadliest form of skin cancer. As skin cancers vary, you should tell your doctor about any changes to your skin, even if they are not similar to those mentioned here. If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS.
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, check it out! If your GP is concerned about your skin, make sure you see a Consultant Dermatologist, the most expert person to diagnose a skin cancer. Your GP can refer you via the NHS
Non-melanoma skin cancer
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 your head and neck (including lips and ears) and the backs of your hands. 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 what they look like. They tend to appear gradually on the skin, and slowly get bigger over time. They will not go away on their own without treatment. Some possible signs include:
- A scab or sore that won’t heal. It may also bleed occasionally
- A scaly or crusty patch of skin that looks red or inflamed
- A flesh coloured, pearly lump that won’t go away and appears to be growing in size
- A lump on the skin which is getting bigger and that may be scabby
- A growth with a pearly rim surrounding a central crater, a bit like an upturned volcano
Notes to editors:
*Sunburn statistic from the Sun Awareness Week survey by the British Association of Dermatologists 2015
Sun Awareness Week takes place from May 9th to 15th 2016 and is owned by and trademarked to the British Association of Dermatologists. La Roche-Posay is the sole sun protection brand partner of the 2016 campaign and has been a sponsor of the British Association of Dermatologists’ Sun Awareness Campaigns since 2011.
This survey of 215 people was conducted online by the British Association of Dermatologists.
The hashtag for Sun Awareness Week 2016 is #SunAwarenessWeek.
For more information please contact the media team:, 0207 391 6084 (Mon-Fri). Website:/for-the-public
About us:
The British Association of Dermatologists is the central association of practising UK dermatologists. Our aim is to continually improve the treatment and understanding of skin disease. For further information about the charity, visit 
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