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Don't go for the burn

British summers may seem mild compared with other countries, but you still need to protect yourself from harmful rays for most of the year. Hannah Frankel sheds some light on the subject

While no summer holiday overseas is ever complete without the constant application of sunscreen, the idea of protecting your skin in the UK can feel a little overzealous, particularly in the spring.

But dermatologists insist that people should start wearing some protection in April and should not stop using it until the end of September.

Even if you're just standing in the playground at break or supervising an outdoor sports lesson, nothing less than factor 15 should be worn between 11am and 3pm, according to Cancer Research UK.

Ignoring the risks can prove fatal. Skin cancer is the third most common one among 15 to 39-year-olds, with more than 75,000 new cases diagnosed in Britain each year.

Rates of skin cancer have more than doubled in the past decade - because sunbeds are now two to three times stronger than they were 10 years ago and because the fashion for tanned skin continues.

Although Australia has more cases of the disease, the UK sees more deaths - 2,300 each year. Despite this, there is nothing in the UK to match Australia's hugely successful "slip, slap, slop" advertising campaign, which has seen rates of skin cancer there drop over the past two decades.

Sun-starved Britons are far more likely to get over-excited at the first sight of those rays and promptly burn.

There are also mixed messages about the health benefits of sunshine. It can have a positive impact on mood and, in moderation, it's a good provider of vitamin D.

Too much time out in the Sun, however, is a different story. Older women - the most susceptible group to a malignant melanoma - should take precautions from this month onwards

Spotting the signs

Check your skin regularly for signs of malignant melanoma or less serious non-melanoma skin cancer. Melanoma is a cancer that begins in the pigment-producing cells of the skin. It is often curable in its early stages, but is much more likely than other types of cancer to spread to other parts of the body. Melanomas are most commonly found on women's legs and men's backs. If you find any of the following you should visit your doctor immediately:

Asymmetrical moles

A Irregular, blurred or jagged moles

A mole of uneven colour, with more than one shade

A mole wider than 6mm in diameter

A new growth or sore which won't heal

A spot, mole or sore which itches or hurts

A mole or growth which bleeds, crusts or scabs

Visit www.cancerresearchuk.orghealthylivingsunsmart

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