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LycaHealth Insights: Dr Seau Tak Cheung- Consultant Dermatologist on “The Myths of Sunscreen”

10th August 2017

When it comes to summer time – we all profess to know the harmful effects of long exposure to the sun without adequate sunscreen or protection, and before going on that family holiday, we ensure we pack as much sunscreen as possible. However, the market is now saturated with so many different brands and factors of sunscreen – it’s often hard for customers to know exactly which sunscreen they require, and the factor. As these decisions are usually made in haste (just before you board), people find that they are still getting burnt whilst on holiday, but assume because they were wearing some sunscreen, they were protected. Sadly, this is often not the case and lead to serious burns and even skin cancer.

In this Lycahealth Insights blog, we speak to Dr Seau Tak Cheung (Lycahealth Consultant Dermatologist) to discuss how UV rays affect our skin and how to stay safe in the sun – at all times.

Sunlight consists of visible light, infra-red light and ultra-violet (UV) light. It is the latter which is most dangerous, that we need to protect ourselves from. UV light is made up of 3 components: UVA, UVB and UVC. Of the three, we do not need to worry about UVC, as it doesn’t reach the surface as it cannot penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere. UVB helps the skin produce Vitamin D, which can aid in bone growth and strength, however sunburn is mostly caused by UVB.

UVA is the type of UV light that is associated with skin ageing and is linked to skin cancer. This is the most serious of the UV lights that can cause extremely harmful short and long term damage to our skin.

Sunscreen should:

  • Meet minimum standards for UVA protection (the label should have the letters ‘UVA’ in a circle logo) ideally, at least ‘4 star UVA protection’.
  • Provide at least sun protection factor (SPF)15 to protect against UVB.

As recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
In some cases, a higher SPF, such as 30, may be better for those who apply it too thinly. It has been shown that many people don’t put sunscreen on sufficient amounts. Some manufacturers have followed the latest European guidance on sunscreen labelling.

Some myths around sunscreens

1) Do I have to wear sunscreen on a cloudy day?

Although the intensity of UV exposure is reduced on a cloudy and rainy day, for some people it may be still enough to cause sun damage to their skin. This is particularly if you have lighter and fairer skin. In the UK, sunlight is strongest between 11 am and 3 pm between March and October. The Met Office has developed an UV index forecast that identifies the strength of the UV rays from the sun at a particular place on a particular day. This can help people make a better judgement to whether they need to use a sunscreen.

This information can be found on the following link:

2) My make-up has SPF 15, does that mean I don’t need to apply any extra sun protection?

Many cosmetic products highlight their SPF level but make-up products tend not to be applied as easily as a sunscreen. The British Association of Dermatologists mentions that moisturisers are also often applied more thinly than sunscreens so do not offer the same protection. It is also important that the make-up products are protective against the ageing rays – UVA.

3) Should I wear sun protection in the winter months?

Sunlight reflects off surfaces such as snow, sand, concrete and water. This can increase the risk of sunburn, even in shaded areas. Furthermore, UV levels increase at higher altitudes. So, for those who like winter sports, such as skiing in the mountains sunscreens are advisable.

4) I have darker skin, does that mean I would require a lower SPF?

How sensitive the skin to sunlight can be classified into six categories. People with darker coloured skin have more natural protection whereas those with fairer skin burn more easily and are at a higher risk of sun cancer and the ageing affects by the sun. Also by knowing your skin type, helps you understand more about your risk to sunlight exposure as well as how much and how often you need to apply to sunscreens. Darker skin people such as those with Types 5 and 6 do not need to regularly use sunscreens, except in prolonged or intense periods of sunlight.

Top 5 tips for protecting the skin from the sun.

  1. Ensure the sunscreen offers sufficient SPF and UVA protection.
  2. Apply sunscreen 15 to 30 minutes before going out into the sun. Sufficient amounts should be applied. For a lotion, a minimum amount is at least 6 full teaspoons (approximately 36 grams) to cover the body of an average adult.
  3. Reapply at least every 2 hours and straight away after swimming and activities that rub it off, such as towel drying.
  4. Remember sunscreens do not offer complete protection against the sun. The skin should be protected from strong sunlight by covering up with suitable clothing, such as a hat and sunglasses.
  5. Seek shade between 11 am and 3 pm when it is sunny.

When is it time to see a specialist?

If there are changes in size, shape or colour check of a mole or freckle. Sometimes a new mole or lump appears and changes. People should also go to their doctor if they notice any unusual or persistent changes, such as an area of broken skin that doesn’t heal (ulcer) for more than 4 weeks.

Dr Seau Tak Cheung is a Consultant Dermatologist at LycaHealth Canary Wharf and LycaHealth Orpington. He runs a medical dermatology service for adult patients with skin conditions to include:

  • Acne
  • Rosacea
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Excess sweating (Botulinum Toxin Injections- for armpits)
  • Hair and Nail Problems
  • Mole Checks
  • Minor skin surgery to remove skin lesions and skin cancers

Dr Seau Tak Cheung runs clinics at LycaHealth Canary Wharf on Wednesday mornings at LycaHealth Canary Wharf and Wednesday afternoons at LycaHealth Orpington and is available for ad hoc appointments upon request.

LycaHealth is accepted by all major insurance companies, and has onsite private GP’s should you not have the time to obtain a referral from your local GP.

For more information, or to book an appointment please call: 0207 132 1440 or visit our website

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