”It’s like a perfect storm for skin cancer in Ireland right now,” explains Michelle Dolan. ”We have an aging population, and sun damage is cumulative. Approximately 75 per cent of the population have skin type 1 or 2, which burns easily and is more prone to skin cancer.

”Since the 1970s, there has been increased travel to countries with hotter climates, where people experience short bursts of intense sunlight and often sunburn. We also have a prevailing  culture in which people believe that having a tan is healthy. All that forms the worrying backdrop to our current situation.”

The most recent figures from the Irish National Cancer Registry show that in 2013, there were over 10,000 cases of skin cancer in Ireland. There are two main types of skin cancer, non-melanoma (including basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma) and the less common but potentially deadly melanoma. Up to 95 per cent of these cancers are caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, predominantly from sunlight.

It is important to inspect your skin regularly to see if there is anything new, different or changing – if you do notice something, visit your GP or a dermatologist as soon as possible for a diagnosis.

As with so many things, however, prevention is better than cure – and there are things we can all do to help prevent skin cancer.

”We want to get across the health risks related to overexposure to UV radiation,” says Michelle. ”It causes visible and invisible skin damage – sunburn being a visible form of damage, but UV rays also cause invisible damage to skin cells. Some of that is repaired, but some of it adds up year after year. After 20 or 30 years or more, the build up causes wrinkles or age spots or even skin cancer.

”Our key message in the Irish Skin Foundation is to know your skin type, and protect yourself accordingly.”

The Fitzpatrick Skin Classification System was developed by an Irish-American dermatologist in the 1970s, and involves a scale ranging from skin type 1, which is high risk, to type 6, which is low risk.

”Those with skin type 1 have pale skin, may have red or fair hair, perhaps freckles and blue eyes,” Michelle explains. ”Those who are skin type 6 have black skin, dark brown eyes, black hair and very rarely, if ever, sunburn.”

High risk

For those who fall into high risk categories – as most Irish people do – what can we do to protect ourselves? Michelle says we must make sun protection part of our daily routine.

”Dermatologists would advocate protecting your skin from March to September in particular. So, you might have a tub of suncream beside your toothbrush in the bathroom, and get into the habit of applying your sunscreen before you go  out. Use sunscreen with a minimum of SPF factor 30 and high UVA protection (4 or 5 stars).

”Your natural skin colour is your best skin colour.”

”Even on cloudy days, there is a certain amount of UV radiation. Make sure to protect any areas that are exposed. Think about areas you might neglect – the back of your neck, your ears and your hands.

”The other thing to remember is that more is better. The average adult requires at least 36g of sunscreen – that’s a shot glass or six full teaspoons, to cover your body and achieve the necessary protection. Apply it 20 minutes before you go out, to allow time to dry in, reapply it shortly afterwards, and then every two hours. After swimming or perspiring or towel drying, make sure to reapply.

”No sunscreen can provide 100 per cent protection – so think about wearing a hat with a wide rim, sunglasses, a t-shirt, and seek shade.”

Sunlight is associated with the production of vitamin D in the body, which is necessary for healthy bones and teeth. However, Michelle says it is a myth that you need to sunbathe to get this benefit.

”Your body can produce vitamin D just walking around outside as part of your daily routine. Vitamin D is biologically regulated, so a long period of sun exposure can break it down, reducing your benefit. You should never sunbathe – or use tanning beds.

”Your natural skin colour is your best skin colour.”