You’re reading our series Summer’s Not Cancelled, where we celebrate summer in this new normal. From rediscovering nature and cherishing time with friends and family, to virtual festivals and unforgettable staycations – summer’s still here, it’s just different.
Two in five Brits have spent more time outdoors in the sun during the pandemic, compared to the same time last year. So what impact is this having on our skin?
A YouGov survey, commissioned by Cancer Research UK and Nivea Sun, found that while Brits are good at applying sun cream for days out and activities, they aren’t taking steps to protect themselves from the sun when they’re at home.
The survey of 2,060 UK adults found more than a third don’t take care in strong sun in their own outside spaces – such as gardens and balconies. This means not using sun cream, wearing sun hats, or sitting in the shade. But when they’re going to the beach, visiting a park, or going on a picnic, they’re more likely to keep their skin protected.
Adults aren’t applying sunscreen often enough, either. Only 60% of those who use sunscreen apply it before going out in the sun, the survey found, and 37% take it with them to apply throughout the day. Some respondents (7%) admitted they don’t do anything to protect their skin when the sun is strong.
With more people exercising outside and spending time in the garden due to Covid-19, Cancer Research UK is urging people to use sun protection.
Claire Knight, the charity’s senior health information manager, says confusion and myths about sun safety could be putting people at risk of skin damage. “The sun isn’t only strong abroad,” she explains. “It can be strong enough to cause damage in the UK from the start of April to the end of September.
“So even if it doesn’t feel that warm, or it’s a cloudy day, it’s still possible to get burnt.”
Risk of sunburn varies from person to person, and sun damage can look different depending on skin type – for people with darker skin types, their skin might feel hot or itchy rather than change colour.
Getting sunburnt just once every two years triples the risk of melanoma, a potentially deadly form of skin cancer. There are two main types of skin cancer: melanoma – which is less common but more serious, as it can spread to other organs in the body – and non-melanoma, the more common type of skin cancer.
Statistics published last year showed melanoma skin cancer rates in the UK have soared by 45% over the course of a decade, with young people also developing the disease. Rates have increased by more than a third (35%) for women and 55% for men – and while melanoma is still more common in those over 65, rates for 25 to 49-year-olds have increased by 70% since the 1990s.
So if you’re spending more time outdoors during lockdown, it’s really important that you protect your skin. There are easy ways to do this, says Knight. For example, using a gazebo or a beach umbrella for shade in the garden and taking regular breaks inside when the sun is strongest between 11am and 3pm.
“When you’re heading out pop on a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses and pack some sunscreen so you can keep it topped up throughout the day,” she says.
You should regularly and generously apply sun cream with at least SPF 15 and 4 or more stars, even when it’s cloudy – and remember to do your eyelids too, as these are frequently missed.
Experts believe almost nine in 10 cases of melanoma skin cancer could be prevented if people protected their skin with a high factor sun cream.