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Lismore, Co Waterford.
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Stay Safe in the Sun

The summer seems to have arrived at last, and many people are hoping for a long sunny summer here in Ireland, while others are looking forward to jetting off to sunnier climes. Either way, now is the time to start thinking about the importance of sun safety.
As most people are aware, exposure to the ultra violet (UV) radiation in sunlight causes skin damage, which can lead to the development of skin cancer. The number of new cases of skin cancer in Ireland has increased by 36% in the last decade; and the incidence of malignant melanoma, the most aggressive type of skin cancer, has risen even more sharply, affecting 84% more men and 48% more women than 10 years ago.

The widespread use of sunbeds is partly to blame for this dramatic increase; however, there is also a perception that exposure to the sun in Ireland is not as harmful as sun exposure abroad, and many people do not use adequate sun protection. In fact up to 85% of the sun’s UV rays do get through even on cloudy days, and Ireland now has the third highest incidence of malignant melanoma in Europe.

When the skin is exposed to the ultra violet (UV) radiation in sunlight, the damage caused triggers specialized cells to produce a brown pigment called melanin which gives a tanned appearance.  Repeated exposure to sunlight can lead to malfunction of these cells which results in the appearance of brown spots, patchy pigmentation and an increased risk of skin cancer.

As with most serious illnesses, early detection gives the best chance of recovery.  Watch out for any new moles, or moles that begin to change, and get them checked as soon as possible. The warning signs to look out for are:
A for Asymmetry – any change in the shape of the mole.

B for Border – any mole with a rough or irregular edge.

C for Colour – any mole with an uneven colour (light brown to black) or colour that changes.

D for Diameter – any mole that changes size or is larger than the blunt end of a pencil (6mm).

Exposure to UV radiation can also damage the skin in other ways.  In the short term there is the risk of sunburn, which can be quite severe in some cases.  In the longer term, damage to the skin’s structure causes a thickened and wrinkled appearance.  In some cases, excessive sun exposure can cause a particularly nasty form of eczema called chronic actinic dermatitis in which the skin becomes permanently thickened and inflamed with numerous scabs.

As with all things, the key is in practicing moderation.  Our main natural source of vitamin D is that which is synthesized in the skin on exposure to sunlight, but around 15-20 minutes of sunlight per day before 11 a.m. is sufficient to provide adequate levels of vitamin D. Anyone who is outdoors in sunny weather after 11 a.m. or planning a holiday to a warmer climate, should protect their skin from the sun’s harmful rays by wearing a hat and applying a high factor sunscreen to exposed areas every 2 hours. It is advisable to stay in the shade between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., and to avoid sunbeds at all costs.

If you do overexpose your skin to the sun there are some natural ways of helping to repair the damage.  Make sure your diet includes plenty of nuts, seeds and wheatgerm, which are high in essential fatty acids, zinc and vitamin E, which promote healing of the skin. Aloe vera gel with a few drops of lavender essential oil mixed in is excellent for restoring the skin after exposure to the sun.