27th August 2019

HEALTH AND WELLBEING: Do you park the sunscreen?

Parks and green spaces are proven to make us feel happier and healthier, inceasing both oure physical and mental wellbeing. It is important that we make sure we stay safe whilst enjoying our local green spaces though, and so as our Summer of Parks discusses health and wellbeing we welcome a guest blog from Michelle Baker, CEO of the Melanoma Fund, who shares her top ten tips for protecting your skin whilst at the park.

The sun is incredible; in fact without it we wouldn't be here. It provides us with warmth and light, it creates our seasons, forms our landscapes, grows our food - it gives us life, but it can also harm us if we do not respect it.

A child of the 70's

Growing up in rural England, the outdoors was my playground. In all weathers, I was riding ponies, making dens with friends, playing sport and well, just doing what children did then. I can honestly say that in all that time I was never asked to wear sun protection, ever. It was not that my parents were being purposefully neglectful, it was just that they knew very little about the danger of the sun then and reserved the SPF5 'suntan lotion' for those very rare holidays abroad.

The sun in the UK was not considered the 'type of sun' you needed protecting against anyway. This was at odds with the fact that we regularly endured sunburn. It wasn't seen as a problem though as at bedtime my mum would untwist the cap of a bottle of 'sickly smelling' calamine lotion and 'Bob's your uncle' problem solved. But obviously it wasn't.

We now know that sunburn in childhood can double the risk of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer, in later life, and especially for those who burn easily, have lots of moles or who have red hair. Thankfully, awareness has grown with more people understanding the need to protect our skin from the sun, but this is only due to the massive hike in incidence.

The bare facts

Melanoma is the fifth most common cancer in the UK. There are around 16,000 new cases reported in the UK every year - that's 44 every day (2014-2016). Since the early 1990s, rates have more than doubled (134%) in the UK. Rates in females have increased by two times (100%) and rates in males have almost tripled (181%).

Suntan denial

Today, although many of us understand the risks, and the evidence is damning, there is something that stops us reaching for the sunscreen when we spent time outdoors in the UK in summer. When off to the park for a picnic, many will pack the sunscreen, hats and sunglasses and many parents will ensure their children are protected, but many also tend to forget their own needs.

Our denial is based around habit and a deep-rooted desire of gaining a tan. No matter what we are told the lure of a sun kissed glow which makes us appear healthier is addictive. Unfortunately, many of us feel that applying sunscreen will stop this magic transformation from happening and are willing to risk a sunburn to fast track that colour change. I know... I have been there.

The problem is this. A tan is not healthy, and it never has been. It dries our skin, creates wrinkles, creates age spots, accelerated ageing, solar keratosis and ultimately, too much can lead to all types of skin cancers, including the most dangerous of all: melanoma.

The solution is not to stay out of the sun - we need the sun and also the Vitamin D it produces to keep us healthy - but just be sensible and balanced in our approach to skin health. If you feel you could do more to protect your skin and your family's skin, try integrating the following ten tips into your next visit to the park. They will help you create habits that will keep the whole family, from grandparents to children, healthy and safe.

  • Apply a broad spectrum SPF30+ before you leave and re-apply every two hours depending on your skin type and how readily you burn.
  • Wear a hat and sunglasses to protect vulnerable areas that are directly exposed to UV light, such as scalp, ears, neck and the delicate eye area.
  • Select shade. From 11 until 3 o'clock the sun is at its most dangerous and a prime time for burning so a shady spot from start off will avoid you moving to find one.
  • Ensure babies are kept out of direct sunlight and protected with appropriate clothing.
  • Take plenty of water and ensure everyone regularly hydrates, especially if alcohol is being consumed.
  • Invest in a pop-up shade which can be easily erected and makes a great base for park dwellers. It also means you can be more flexible and make your own shade without relying on trees.
  • Remember that although you may start your trip to the park in overcast weather, blistering sun can follow - as is the UK weather! It is also worth remembering that 80% of UV rays penetrate clouds which means you can still burn.
  • A blustery breeze can easily disguise a hot day, so even if you don't feel the heat, it is there! Wear sunscreen and avoid a painful and unexpected sunburn at home time.
  • Watch your back! Be careful when exposing virgin skin to the sun as these areas are highly prone to burning and blistering. Invest in rash tops for children with sensitive skin.
  • Finally, enjoy being outdoors, enjoy the sunshine and be active. The important thing is to respect it and avoid sunburn.

I have run the Melanoma Fund since 2013 and this has given me insight and has reformed my habits, from sun worshipper to sun sensible, but it wasn't overnight. We all feel that cancer happens to other people, but with skin cancer rates now reaching epidemic levels, we all need to take responsibility for our skin. As well as protecting, ensure you get to know your skin too.

Check your skin regularly and understand what to look out for. Look for changes in moles and lesions and if anything is itchy, crusty, an odd shape or just worries you, get to your GP immediately as early detection can save your life.

 

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Michelle's Favourite Five

Favourite childhood park: I grew up in rural Essex and my days were spent exploring the extensive bluebell woodland surrounding my parent's pub. I will always remember my mum taking us to South Weald Park in Brentwood to walk our dog Sheba. We'd run down the hills and circle the lakes, looking for tadpoles and minnows and enjoy learning the names of all the plants which grew in abundance.

Favourite local park: I have lived in Tunbridge Wells for nearly 20 years now. The town is lucky to have lots of amazing parks, all with their own character and unique aspects. I have three favourites: I regularly parkrun in the magnificent Dunorlan Park, reflect in quaint Grove Park and marvel at the amazing planting in historic Calverley Park.

Favourite overseas park: It would have to be Central Park in NYC. I was blown away by the skyline, with the looming buildings being seemingly held back by an invisible forcefield. The way the city melts away once you enter this space is magical - it was a bit how I imagined it to be from the movies, but so much better!

Favourite park memory: Watching my son ride off without stabilisers on his bike for the first time in Calverley Park is something I will never, ever forget. A perfect hill and perfect moment in a perfect park.

Favourite thing to do at the park: Walking my dog Cookie, with Hue & Cry on my headphones and the sun high in the sky... wearing SPF30 of course!

 

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Michelle BakerMichelle Baker is CEO of the Melanoma Fund. She has over 30 years' experience in PR and marketing, working for both large consultancies in London to her own boutique agency in Kent. Having joined the charity in 2013, Michelle immediately set to work building a new website, logo and future strategy. In 2014 she created the Outdoor Kids Sun Safety Code, inspired by a sunburn received by her young son whilst playing tennis, and in 2016 launched the Watch Your Back! campaign.