Watch that sun

Every summer is getting hotter, and in May the UV rays are very high so it’s important to watch that sun!.  Just believing that it’s OK to sit in the sun if you have a high factor sun cream, is dangerous.  (See below about the problems with sun tan lotions).

There’s a mixed message about the sun – the skin needs exposure to the sun to make that vital Vitamin D which is essential for healthy bones and teeth,  immune system and cognitive function – pretty important!  Yet we have been receiving a message for years that too much sun (and exposure to sunbeds) can cause skin cancer. View Skin Cancer Rates High in the UK.

It’s very important to use high factor sun cream, but what we need to be careful of is the sun cream itself. It can cause eczema, skin rashes, and has been found to be high in harsh chemicals. There are plenty of safe alternatives that are more natural.

The problem starts when we are young and we think we’re invincible, and despite what they say, we still love a tan.  Children’s skin is more at risk than adults and it is from a young age that we need to be protected – so why not take a leaf out of the Australians’ book? The Slip, Slap, Slop campaign A very successful advertising campaign in Australia was Slip Slap Slop: • Slip on a T-shirt • Slap on a cap • Slop on the sunscreen!

It’s very important to use high factor sun cream, but what we need to be careful of is the sun cream itself. It can cause eczema, skin rashes, and has been found to be high in harsh chemicals. There are plenty of safe alternatives that are more natural.

Why the sun is good for us

No wonder people get fed up with conflicting messages but it is true that exposure to the sun without sunscreen enables the skin to manufacture Vitamin D. It is also a fact that many of us are deficient in Vitamin D, according to recent research. Vitamin D helps to maintain healthy bones and teeth, and regulates calcium and phosphorus levels which ensure good muscle function.  Read more in Vitamin D deficiency due to lack of sun.

This doesn’t therefore mean that spending hours in the sun without sunscreen is a good idea when it’s exceptionally hot. Good judgement helps most of us to know how much sun is enough depending on the temperature outside. But of course children cannot make this decision for themselves and are usually so busy playing that they don’t think about it. There are other reasons why too much sun isn’t that good for us – everyone has seen people who have tanned so much that their skin becomes tough, old and wrinkly. Also too much sun on a very hot day can bring on sunstroke which results in headaches, dehydration and sickness and can be dangerous.

Sunscreen yes – chemicals no! Once you become keen to avoid pesticides in your food, and start looking at cosmetics to see what they contain, you become aware of what’s in sun creams.  There are a range of different chemicals in them including  phthalates, PABA, BPA and parabens. There are also said to be chemicals in them (xenoestrogens) that mimic or disrupt hormones and these can be in the ‘parfum’, a cocktail of chemicals or oxybenzone. There is a particular chemical, Isothiazolinone, which is in many body creams and lotions and which many people are allergic to. It also has derivatives (like parabens) so look for the name if your skin is sensitive.

One of the worst chemicals is parabens which is usually found in well known brands of sun tan lotion. It appears in many different forms: methyl paraben, ethyl paraben, butyl paraben, propyl paraben, and propul paraben. Research studies found that propyl paraben has been found to decrease sperm production and traces of parabens have been found in human breast tissue. There are now plenty of healthier alternatives which are good for the skin, make it moist and also prevent sunburning. Given that it’s not a good idea to spend hours and hour in hot sun, these sunscreens are perfectly adequate. Parfum too is a strange term that covers a whole gamut of fragrance chemicals, the names of which are not listed. People with allergies often have a reaction to parfum. It’s perfectly possible to buy sunscreens that use natural ingredients up to about 46 F.  Some contain essential oils, several contain aloe vera. They smell great, they work and they keep your skin soft and protected, without allowing harsh chemicals into the bloodstream – particularly suitable for kids.

Skin cancer rates high in UK

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world (possibly matched by their neighbour, New Zealand).   In the UK where we don’t have the same amount of sun we have double the amount of deaths due to skin cancer (although we have a much larger population).  See related article: Healthier Sunscreens.

• Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin  cancer by the time they are 70.

• In Australia there are around 1,279 deaths due to skin cancer (2007 figures).

• In the UK there are 2,560 deaths due to skin cancer each year (2008 figures).

• It is the fourth most common cancer in Australia with 10,342 cases each year (2007 figures).

• There are 11,770 new cases of malignant melanoma  every year in the UK (2008 figures).

• The sun and sunbeds are the main cause.

(Figures from Cancer in Australia 2010: an overview and Cancer Research UK)

Protective clothing

Children can even swim in a white T-shirt to deflect the sun’s rays under water when they are still just as powerful. This is often how they get burnt because they (and their parents) believe that as they are in water they will be protected. There is also a very common myth that if it’s cloudy you won’t get burnt, but you do!

Supplementing for the sun

It might not be that well known that we can protect the skin by arming ourselves with certain nutrients such as antioxidants that defend against ultraviolet rays. Vitamin C, Vitamin E, beta-carotene and lycopene are all rich sources of antioxidants that can help to protect the skin.

Taking a multivitamin and eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables as a matter of course is helpful, but a supplement that combines these nutrients is also useful.

  Featured products    
Sunscape contains Vitamins A, C, E, B, and zinc Nature’s Plus 60 veg caps £19.60
 ***Please click here to order from the Nutri Centre***    

Why not fake it?

Going on sunbeds can get you a great tan without going near a foreign beach, but there is an opinion among some medical experts that they are partly responsible for the increase in skin cancer. The law in the UK forbids anyone under 16 from using them.

Photo-dynamic therapy – gentler cancer treatment

 ‘With PDT you don’t suffer skin burns. You don’t have your hair falling out. Your white blood cells aren’t destroyed, so your immune system stays intact and allows you to fight off all the other bugs,’ according to Chris Tarrant.

Just recently Jean Pringle from Bishop Auckland was dying from mouth cancer. She was unlikely to live long enough to attend her son’s wedding in August 2008. She was due to have radical surgery which would remove her tongue, part of her jaw and several teeth. A feature on PDT in a national newspaper changed Jean’s fortunes. She was given Photodynamic Therapy by the specialist, Colin Hopper, and now Jean will be able to attend her son’s wedding with an intact face.

The choices for anyone faced with cancer are often grim – if they take conventional treatment such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy they are often beset with serious side-effects such as losing their hair, skin damage and being sick. Surgery too can induce physical and emotional scars that take a long time to heal.

A non-invasive treatment – photodynamic therapy (PDT) – that uses non-toxic drugs based on chlorophyll and low-powered lights and lasers, is increasingly being used for throat, skin, prostate and now even lung cancers with great success. Usually PDT only requires one treatment. Although little known about it is available at 30 UK hospitals.

PDT is designed to be selective, and only zap the cancer cells. If healthy cells are zapped by accident, they re-grow within weeks. That’s not the only advantage. PDT can usually kill cancers in just a single treatment and, if a few cancer cells are missed, you can repeat the treatment.

There is no real down side with PDT, while many patients are advised to stay in a darkened room for a few days after their treatment. That’s because PDT uses a light sensitive drug that is activated by a low-powered light. It kills the cancer cells by knocking out the oxygen supply to the cancer cells.

‘I have realised that the frequency of my visits to churches to attend the funerals of close friends is starting to increase,’ says Chris Tarrant, DJ and TV presenter, who has given his backing to the Killing Cancer charity which aims to get photodynamic therapy more recognised among the medical profession and more available within hospitals.

‘Fifty years ago medical boffins realised that sunlight had a positive effect on all sorts of patients. For example, they found that leukaemia patients in the shady half of a ward remained quite poorly while those on the sunny side got better quite quickly.

Photodynamic therapy has been used to treat patients at London’s National Medical Laser Centre at UCL for a dozen years or more. The science has moved on fast and some of the greatest success has been with skin and mouth cancers and now PDT is available at 30 NHS hospitals in the UK.

Chris says, ‘For me 30 centres is not enough. Until more of us know about PDT ourselves and more GPs know about it this treatment is going to remain a secret.

‘I met the Professor who is leading the research in the UK. I met the professor who is leading the research in the UK. He is one of those rather special people who are all too rare in the world. Steve Bown explained to me that PDT is treating thousands of patients around the world for skin, head, neck and mouth cancers. They are also working on something called Barrett’s Oesphagus that is the pre-condition to oesophageal cancer, successfully treating patients.

‘They have also been working on lung cancer, getting some great results, and are treating patients with prostate cancer. The point is, with more money, they could be developing PDT for lots of other cancers, including liver, brain, pancreas and colon.

‘The problem for the charity is that they don’t have the millions in the bank that other cancer charities do, and the drug companies who are working with them are paupers when compared to the big names we see on the pills and potions that pack the shelves in our bathrooms.

‘Your GP doesn’t know about the PDT option because the small drug companies involved don’t have the vast funds needed to promote the treatment. To promote something like PDT, you need a lot of money.’


‘If you are still undecided about PDT,’ Chris continues, ‘There is nothing more powerful than meeting the patients being treated with this incredibly effective cancer killer. The first I met was Kim. She’s an elegant woman, and the mother of four smashing kids.

‘She was diagnosed with a skin cancer on her nose, and from all the research she did, everyone pointed her to having PDT. Her GP didn’t know the first thing about PDT.

‘Thanks to the Internet, she read up all about it. For Kim, the alternatives would have been radiotherapy or surgery. Depending upon how deep the roots were of the cancer, they would have to chop away more or less of her nose. In the worst cases, they remove the entire nose and replace it with a plastic shell and scavenge flesh from other parts of your body to create something of a patchwork quilt. It sounds revolting.

‘She found out about the possibility of a PDT treatment at the National Medical Laser Centre just three days before her visit to the man with the scalpels. She thanks her lucky stars every day, and the PDT bonus for her was that there has been no scar. To look at Kim, you wouldn’t know she has had a brush with cancer.

‘Kim knows how and why she got her cancer. It was a legacy of teenage years when thinking that having a tan didn’t have its down side. She was pleased as punch to go back to school after winter skiing trips with a rich tan. She didn’t know the damage she was doing to herself in the long term.

‘These days, we know more of the dangers of skin cancer and the implications of getting that wonderful tan. These days, Kim’s only tan comes from a bottle.

‘When you realise that skin cancer is being discovered in people in their teens, you realise again that cancer is something that is hitting people of all ages.

‘Where I am really shocked is of the public ignorance about the level of protection that we need from our sun screens. There are two types of rays that can give us skin cancer, and not all the lotions cover you for both.

‘So, the task for the people at Killing Cancer is as much about education as it is about fund raising. We all know of dozens of cancer charities. We have them for every different cancer, and in some cases there are several all seeking to find a cure for the same thing. Each and every one of us has probably given money to a cancer charity at some time or another.

‘But am I the only one of us who is starting to think that, despite the millions and billions spent on research into cancer, we still don’t appear to be any closer to a cure? Surely, after all this time, we should have something more to show for all that money?

‘My introduction to PDT has raised lots of issues for me. While the other charities are researching a cure, Killing Cancer isn’t asking for cash and my celebrity support to find a cure for this or that cancer. They have a cancer treatment … but they needed funds to develop it.

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