UV safety awareness: the importance of protection and prevention


July is UV Safety Awareness month, and with summer holidays in full swing now is the perfect time to head outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. So, what is UV radiation and what can we do to protect ourselves from the potential risks associated with it? Dr Ariel Haus, founder of Dr Haus Dermatology at 75 Harley Street, fills us in

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of non-ionising radiation that is emitted by the sun and artificial lights, such as tanning beds. While it has some benefits for people, including the role it plays in the creation of vitamin D, it is also the leading cause of damage to skin cells. 

There are two major types of UV radiation which can affect healthy skin: ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB). To make it easier for you to understand, I’ll give you a tip: UVA is for ageing (you will get this through your day-to-day sun exposure) and UVB is for burning (experienced usually during the summer months). UVA radiation affects both the epidermal (most superficial) and dermal (deeper) layers, whereas UVB affects primarily the epidermis.

Dr Ariel Haus of Dr Haus Dermatology

Dr Ariel Haus of Dr Haus Dermatology

Why should we be thinking about UV radiation?
Chronic exposure to UV radiation can lead to serious health consequences, not only making our skin age faster (dermatologists refer to this as premature ageing) but also increasing our risk of developing skin cancer.

The most common types of skin cancers in this country are basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and malignant melanoma, which is the most serious of all skin cancers. According to Cancer Research UK, between 2015 and 2017 around 16,200 new cases of melanoma were diagnosed and 2,300 people died from the disease in the UK. 

Like most cancer types, incidence of melanoma skin cancer increases with age. Each year more than a quarter of all new cases are in people aged 75 years and older, although it is found across all age groups. Age-specific incidence rates increase steadily from around age 20-24 and then more steeply in males from around the age of 55-59. 

Cancerous and pre-cancerous skin lesions develop mostly on areas of skin that are regularly exposed to the sun, such as the back, legs, arms and face, but can also be found on other parts of the body such as the feet. People with fairer skin and freckles or moles are at higher risk.

Most skin cancers can be effectively treated and cured if detected early. Therefore, regular checks of your skin by a dermatologist, especially if you have any moles that are changing in appearance or have newly appeared, is imperative. During initial consultations with new patients at Dr Haus Dermatology, we will usually begin with a series of questions about the patient’s general health and lifestyle, and we will then carry out an in-depth examination of any moles and their skin in general. If we are concerned about a mole, we then use a high-powered skin surface microscope (a dermoscopy) to check for signs of melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Any suspicious looking lesions will be carefully removed and the specimens sent for laboratory analysis.

For patients who have a lot of moles on their body, we typically also recommend that they take advantage of our mole mapping technology. Mole mapping is carried out with a highly sensitive camera that uses state-of-the-art technology to effectively provide a photographic chart of your entire body in a matter of minutes. We can then use that as a baseline to monitor even the subtlest changes to your skin over time.

What can you do to protect your skin and prevent further damage?
Protection and prevention are key! The best form of protection against UV damage to the skin is prevention: avoid direct sun exposure where possible and wear sunblock every day, even if it’s cloudy. As I always say to my patients, the only time there is no sun is at night! 

Use the best SPF50 product you can afford. I always prefer to use a physical, rather than chemical product. This will help to further reflect the sun’s rays, instead of them being absorbed into the skin. It’s important to reapply the sunscreen frequently throughout the day and using a tinted version will also mean that it’s invisible once applied. We also recommend that anyone regularly using sunblock take a vitamin D supplement to ensure their levels of this important vitamin are not inadvertently depleted. And make sure to follow the usage instructions of the product – most people severely underestimate the amount of sun cream that is needed to cover their face, neck, ears and anywhere else that is exposed to the sun.

Finally, remember what I said at the beginning: that UVA causes the skin to prematurely age. Even if your sun exposure does not lead to skin cancer, it will still be doing damage at the cellular level that might lead to age spots, wrinkles, and uneven texture later in life. A lot of this can be easily prevented through the consistent, daily use of sunblock and by limiting your sun exposure during the summer months.