Advice from Teagasc: Skin cancer risk highlighted

It is important to remember that sunshine brings dangers, advises Eileen Woodbyrne of the Teagasc College in the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin.

In her report in the July-August of the Teagasc/Agricultural Trust Today’s Farm magazine, she says you may be at a higher than normal risk of skin cancer if you have been exposed to sunlight all your life, which is particular relevant for people who work outdoors, such as gardeners or farmers.

According to the Irish Cancer Society, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in Ireland, and the main cause of skin cancer is ultra violet (UV) radiation from sunlight.

You may also be at a higher than normal risk of skin cancer if you have fair skin that freckles or burns easily, or if you had severe sunburn or blistering as a child.

People who have moles on their skin, or who have a family history of skin cancer, may also be at greater risk.

How to protect ourselves

Avoid the sun between 11am and 3pm.

Wear protective clothing (covering arms and legs), a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses (the eyes can also be damaged by sun).

Wear sunscreen.

When it comes to clothing, dark or vibrant colours are better at absorbing UV, and protecting the wearer, than whites or light colours.

Some fabrics, particularly those used in sportswear, are now labelled with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).

This relates to the weight and colour of the fabric and the tightness of the weave (rays can penetrate the spaces between loosely woven fabrics).

A UPF of 50, for example, allows only one 50th of the sun’s radiation reach your skin.

A thin white T-shirt would have a UPF of about five.

Remember, too, that worn or threadbare clothes won’t protect as well, so if your work clothes have seen better days, perhaps it is time to replace them.

For sunscreen to be effective, it should be applied 30 minutes before sun exposure, thickly and evenly, and should be reapplied every two hours, regardless of what it says on the label.

At least SPF 15 is recommended for daily use.

At least SPF 30 is recommended for prolonged exposure to sun, so people who work outdoors should go for factor 30 or higher.

Studies have shown that many people apply too little sunscreen, reducing the protection it provides.

When considering the risk of sun damage, remember that the back of your neck and the tops of your shoulders are particularly vulnerable to sun damage.

Don’t forget your hands; ideally, wear gloves when working outdoors, or at least use a high SPF sunscreen.

The Irish Cancer Society reports that some UV rays can pass through glass.

While UV radiation through windows probably isn’t a major risk for most people, if you spend a lot of time in a tractor or in a glasshouse, you should protect your skin.

Enjoy the sun, but make sure you protect yourself.

The added bonus is that protecting yourself from sun damage won’t just help to keep you safe from skin cancer; it will keep you looking young and gorgeous too.


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