Sun protection sussed out


DR ANDREW Birnie is a consultant dermatologist and dermatological surgeon, specialising in skin cancer, based in Canterbury, Kent.

The skin cancer lead for East Kent, he also practices at the Specialist Medical Clinic in Gibraltar, which provides a monthly dermatology clinic with UK dermatologists. He enjoys sport, in particular cricket and rugby and the outdoors.

The RTN caught up with Dr Birnie to bust some sunscreen myths and verify how much vitamin D we should actually be getting.

RTN – How much sunscreen do I need to use?

Dr Birnie – Enough to make the skin look white before the cream goes in and disappears. Typically, this is about a shot glass worth to cover the body. It needs to be applied every couple of hours when in the sun and daily on the face, especially when living in sunny climes.

RTN – What is the right way to apply sunscreen?

Dr Birnie – It should be applied before going out in to the sun to all exposed bits of skin and then reapplied after swimming, towelling or every couple of hours. It’s best to rub it in in one direction – in the direction of hair growth i.e. down the legs as this makes it go in more easily and reduces the risk of blocking the hair follicles.

RTN – Does a tan protect you from getting sunburn?

Dr Birnie – Yes, it does to an extent. It’s the body’s response to DNA damage and the tan develops in an attempt to reduce the further effects of exposure. However, as a dermatologist I wouldn’t advocate deliberately getting a tan for that purpose and would strongly advise against the use of sun beds prior to going on holiday – the high intensity blast of UV has been shown to be carcinogenic (a cancer inducer).


RTN – Doesn’t sunscreen prevent my child from getting much-needed vitamin D from the sun?

Dr Birnie – If you live in southern Spain it would be difficult to completely block out all of the sun. Most people using a factor 30 would still get some vitamin D from their daily activities. If somehow, you managed to remain completely white then taking 10mcg of vitamin D a day would alleviate the concerns (5mcg in children). Most people also don’t realise how little sun they need to get enough vitamin D: just 15 mins of UK summer sun 3 times a week would be enough for most people to achieve adequate levels.

RTN – Does my child need regular body checks?

Dr Birnie – No. The likelihood of children developing skin cancer is vanishingly rare. Rather keep them protected now to reduce their risk of skin cancer (and wrinkly, blotchy skin) later in life.

Dr Birnie strongly believes it is everyone’s basic human right to be able to protect themselves against skin cancer and that affordability shouldn’t come into it… taking matters in to his own hands, he developed ‘Altruist’ – a dermatologist sunscreen ‘with a conscience’.

A tube of Altruist costs little more than a fancy coffee, but there are no frills. What profit there is goes straight back into product development and manufacture and proceeds from the sale of every bottle of Altruist go to Under the Same Sun and children in Africa suffering from albinism.

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