Over the past 30 years, humans have made progress in stopping damage to the ozone layer by curbing the use of certain chemicals.
But according to Gillian Nuttall, Founder of charity Melanoma UK, ozone thinning that took place in the 1980s and 1990s has led to a generation of young adults who were exposed to more ultraviolet (UV) radiation than ever before.
She explains: “The ozone layer absorbs and protects us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays, particularly the harmful UVB-type rays that are linked to an increased risk of skin cancer.
“The thinning of the ozone layer in earlier decades has left a generation more exposed to damaging UV rays than ever before, which has left them at greater risk of developing skin cancer in later life.
“It is widely documented that just a few sunburns in early life can lead to melanoma in later years and now melanoma is on the increase. It’s the UK’s fifth most common cancer and seven people die from it every day.”
According to Gillian, most people think that catching a bit of sun is harmless – but the second our skin starts to turn pink, irreparable damage has already taken place.
“I think it’s fair to say that the issue of skin protection is not high enough on anyone’s agenda. Skin cancer is viewed by many as ‘only skin cancer’- it is the only disease that is treated so flippantly. But we would never speak about any other disease with such disregard.
“That being said, we can take measures now to minimise future risk and also make sure we’re protecting the next generation from sun damage. The habits we create today affect the tomorrow of our children.”
Warning parents to be more alert to the dangers, Childs Farm’s paediatric dermatologist, Dr Jennifer Crawley, claims it’s important to use sun cream not just during the summer months, but all year round to avoid long term sun damage and the risk of developing skin cancer.
She adds: “Gillian is quite right that we shouldn’t take unnecessary risks with our skin and the skin of our children. Getting sunburnt just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer. That’s why it’s so important to be applying sun cream all year round, not just when it’s hot.
“The sun might not always be fierce, but UVA and UVB rays can still be damaging on cooler days. We all need a re-education when it comes to sun protection and we need to get out of the mindset that suncream is just for holidays abroad or during heatwaves at home.”
Dr Crawley stresses that sun care is particularly important for young skin and parents have a responsibility to make sure their children are protected.
“Skin cancers take a long time to occur and they occur because of an accumulation of UV damage over a number of years, making it fundamental to protect skin at an early age.
“Any sunburn on children’s skin in particular is worrying, because young skin is much thinner than an adult’s, making it far more susceptible to damage. Sunburn in childhood dramatically increases the chance of skin cancer in later life; it really is imperative that parents take the right steps to protect their little ones when they are outdoors.”