Our moment in the sun: Irish people need to take care

Getting sunburn once every two years triples your risk of melanoma skin cancer

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy, Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high . . . ”
“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine . . . ”
“Here comes the Sun . . . ”
“I’m Walking on Sunshine and don’t it feel good . . . ”

What’s your favourite sunshine song?

These sunshine songs have been blasting from radios for days now as the country basks in glorious sunshine. Nothing beats a beautiful sunny day, except maybe a song about a beautiful sunny day.

But nothing spoils a sunny day like the pain of a sunburn. People have been spotted with their shirts off. This is idiotic because 75 per cent of the Irish population have a fair complexion, burn easily and tan with difficulty – or not at all. They are most at risk of skin cancer. Getting painful sunburn once every two years triples your risk of melanoma skin cancer.


Nine out of every 10 cases are caused by UV rays from the sun or sunbeds. Over-exposure to UV rays which leads to tanning, redness or burning causes damage to skin cells. While much of this damage is repaired, some remains and can lead to skin cancer later in life. It is especially important to protect babies and children, as much of the UV damage that leads to skin cancer takes place in the early years.

Ireland has more than 11,000 cases of skin cancer a year so it is really important we encourage everyone to take precautions to reduce their risk of sun damage.

The Irish Cancer Society's "SunSmart" code provides basic information on how people can keep safe in the sun.

– Seek shade: UV rays are most intense between 11am and 3/4pm, so limit sun exposure during this time.

– Covering up: Wear loose long-sleeved shirts and long pants – 95 per cent of UV rays are blocked by cotton. Wear a wide-brimmed hat that shades the head, neck, ears and face.

Wear wraparound sunglasses: Wear ones that block as close to 100 per cent of UVA and UVB as possible. Up to 10 per cent of skin cancer appears on the eyelids. Sunglasses are just as important for children as they are for adults and can help prevent cataracts later in life.

– Wear sunscreen: No sunscreen, whether it's SPF 15 or 50, will give the protection it claims unless you apply it properly. Use a "broad spectrum" sunscreen – SPF minimum 30 or 50 which protects against UVB and UVA. Check for the UVA logo on the bottle. Apply 20 minutes before going out in the sun and reapply every two hours – more often after swimming or perspiring. Make sure you put enough sunscreen on – people often apply much less than is necessary to get the full protection. The amount of sunscreen that's needed to cover the body of an average adult is around 35mls or six full teaspoons of lotion. This is more than a half a teaspoon of sunscreen for each arm and face/neck (including ears) and just over one teaspoon for each leg, front of the body and back of the body. Apply to clean, dry skin 20 minutes before you expose yourself to the sun to give your skin time to absorb and for the protection to start working.

Reapply sunscreen regularly – it is easily rubbed, sweated or washed off, and reapplying helps avoid missing bits of skin. Use sunscreen together with shade and clothing to avoiding getting caught out by sunburn.

Don’t be tempted to spend longer in the sun than you would without sunscreen. Even sunscreens that claim to be “water resistant” or “waterproof” should be reapplied after going in the water, especially if you have towelled dry. Storing sunscreens in very hot places can ruin their protective chemicals. Don’t forget to check the expiry date on your sunscreen, most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years, but ensure your sunscreen has not expired before you use it.

– Know your skin type: There are six different skin types. They range from white skin that burns and never tans to black skin. Most Irish people have fair skin which means their skin burns and does not tan or burns before it tans. Knowing your skin type will help you to protect your skin from the sun and not get sunburned.

– Know the UV index today: The higher the level of UV radiation expected, the less time it takes the skin to burn and the greater the risk of skin damage which can lead to skin cancer.

– No tan for baby: Keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight.

And turn the radio up, dance around the garden and enjoy the glorious sun safely.

– Kevin O'Hagan is cancer prevention manager at the Irish Cancer Society. Contact the cancer nurseline on freephone 1800 200 700.