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Sun series: Understanding the sun

Sun series: Understanding the sun

According to Cancer Research UK, in 2011 37 people every day were diagnosed with malignant melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Although that is shocking enough, a disproportionate amount of those were young people; one third were under 55 and more than two people between 15 and 34 in the UK are diagnosed with it each day. It's also twice as common in women up to the age of 34 as men, but more men die from it.

Part of the reason is clearly the fashion factor as some people still believe a real tan is the most stylish. But poor education is also key, so in the first of a series of articles we're aiming to take some of the confusion out of sun protection. To kick things off, what's the difference between UVA and UVB rays?

"The biggest misconception is that applying a sunscreen will help the skin to tan. It’s also common for people to think that there is safe tan, this is not correct - there is no safe tan. Tanning is always a sign that DNA damage has occurred," Dr Marko Lens, who is an internationally renowned authority in the field of skin aging and skin cancer, told Cover Media.

"UVB light [is] the main cause of sunburn and has a more superficial penetration of the skin (epidermis). UVB causes direct DNA damage. UVA light has much deeper penetration (epidermis and dermis) and causes indirect DNA damage via the formation of free radicals that cause a series of chemical reactions in cells, causing DNA damage. UVA light is responsible for premature skin ageing."

Sun burn has been linked to skin cancer and it's important you learn what to look for. Being informed is the key here, with Dr Lens explaining more about the different kinds of the illness.

"Skin cancer can be: melanoma and non-melanoma (basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma). Melanoma is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. It usually develops from a mole. You should always check your moles and looks for these signs: ABCDE, A - asymmetry, B - borders (irregular), C - colour (variegation), D - diameter (all moles above 6mm may be suspicious) and E-evolution (changing of the mole over the time)," he stated.

Paula Begoun is the CEO of Paula's Choice skincare and also a best-selling author who believes research is the key to good skincare. She sees sun protection as the thing everyone should be "neurotic" about and cannot fathom why some chose to ignore the warnings.

"If you're not protecting your skin from the sun it's kind of like thinking you can smoke a cigarette and be healthy if you eat broccoli and spinach, right? It doesn't work that way," she told Cover Media. "When you're doing something as damaging and as carcinogenic as exposing your skin to the sun without sunscreen or being sun smart, then everything else is for nought. You really can't shore up the damage because the damage is so insidious to skin. And whatever you're reading out there about the fear of sunscreen, I am asking you from the deepest part of my caring heart, if I was your mother I would say - ignore it. It's wrong. It is exposing your skin to cancer at the very most and at the very least to premature ageing. Everything you are not eventually going to like about your skin you will dislike about it much sooner."

Cover Media