Is your face fully protected against skin cancer?

British people aren’t applying sunscreen correctly when it comes to their faces, claims a survey by the British Association of Dermatologists.

And that could leave us more susceptible to skin cancers, since more than 90 percent of basal cell carcinomas – the most common cancer in the UK – affect the head or neck (between five and 10 percent of all skin cancers affect the eyelids, claims the BAD).

In tests, volunteers were asked to apply sunscreen to their faces. They were photographed with a UV-sensitive cancer before and after using sunscreen so the researchers could see clearly which areas were covered with sunscreen and which ones weren’t.

After analysing the images, the researchers concluded that, on average, people miss almost 10 percent of their entire face when applying sunscreen. The most commonly missed areas were the eyelids and the area between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose.

The volunteers were then asked to repeat the test, but this time they were given information about skin cancer and how it affects the eyelids. This improved the level of sunscreen coverage, the researchers claim – but not by much, as 7.7 percent of the volunteers’ faces were still left unprotected.

Part of the problem, they suggest, is that applying sunscreen in these areas isn’t always practical, as sunscreen manufacturers print warnings on their labels to keep products out of the eye. This is why it’s important to use other forms of protection such as sunglasses, the BAD experts add.

Back to basics

According to Matthew Gass of the BAD, sunscreen is one of the main protections against UV damage and skin cancer, so it’s essential you know how to use it correctly.

“We still want people to enjoy themselves outdoors, but to go back to the basics of sun protection, especially those with fair skin that burns easily, and during periods of strong sunshine either in the UK or abroad.”

These basics of sun protection include:

  • Applying and reapplying sunscreen with a minimum of factor 30 and good UVA protection thoroughly
  • Wearing protective clothing such as a t-shirt or a hat
  • Wearing sunglasses that show the CE mark and British Standard BSEN1836
  • Spending time in the shade when the sun is at its hottest between 11am and 3pm

“Perhaps the most important think to take away from this research is the importance of sunglasses,” says Dr Kevin Hamill of Liverpool University, one of the researchers who worked on the study.

“Most people consider the point of sunglasses is to protect the eyes, specifically corneas, from UV damage and to make it easier to see in bright sunlight. However they do more than that, they protect the highly cancer prone eyelid skin as well.”

To find out which sunscreen product would work best for you, have a chat with your Careway pharmacist. Find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.

For more information, read our article How to protect your eyes during summer.