Getting under the skin of climate change

After a rocky start to the summer in the UK, it seems that the sunshine is officially here. Temperatures have recently rocketed, reaching a sweltering 35C in London.

Which got us, as a medical communications agency, thinking about the rising global temperatures we’re experiencing year on year. What do they mean for the body’s largest organ: the skin?

Do you know your UVAs, Bs and Cs?

As we know, UV rays can have a powerful, harmful effect on the skin. And though they make up only a very small portion of the sun’s rays, exposure to the UV rays are the main cause of skin damage, as they essentially attack the DNA of skin cells.

This can lead to cancer, when the DNA of genes that control skin cell growth are damaged and begin to multiply unchecked. People who get a lot of UV exposure from the sun, or use tanning beds and lamps are at a greater risk of skin cancer than those who don’t.1

UVA rays age skin cells and damage their DNA. They are implicated in some skin cancers.
UVB also thought to play a role in most skin cancers – these rays have more energy and are the rays that cause sunburns.
UVC – you may not have heard of these. UVC rays have the most energy, but thankfully can’t get through our atmosphere, so these aren’t usually a cause of skin cancer.1

The eyes have it

When we talk about UV exposure, the skin tends to dominate the conversation. But we need to keep our eyes peeled – quite literally – to the damage that UV rays can do to our eyes.

Our retinas take images that we see and send them to our brain to be interpreted. As such, they are key to our vision. And there appears to be a correlation between macular degeneration of the retina – which leads to vision loss – and UV exposure.2

UV rays are also a known contributor to lens-clouding cataracts.2 Though treatable, they can cause blindness if left untreated.

Climate change and our skin

Considering what UV rays do to our skin and eyes – what impact is climate change having on the UV exposure that we’re experiencing?

According to the United Nations Environment Program, we’re going to see an increase in the incidence of skin cancer and sunburn. And this is directly linked to the stratospheric ozone depletion that’s been happening for at least the first half of the twenty-first century.3

Based on estimates, a European population living at 45 degrees north will experience 5% more skin cancer by 2050. And America is predicted to see a 10% rise.3

The most important factors

All this means that we’re going to need to be more careful than ever when it comes to protecting our skin.

We all want to enjoy the summer sun, of course. So although staying in the shade during daylight hours is technically the best advice, getting a good quality sun cream is far more realistic advice.

But remember that not all sun cream is created equal. The NHS recommend using one with at least a 4-star UVA rating. And to protect against the burning of UVB rays, you need at least factor 30SPF.4 Hats, light trousers and sleeves tops also work to limit the amount of rays that reach your skin.

Another good tip is to limit refraction. If you’re in an area of reflective surfaces, they’ll bounce the sunlight back to you, making the UV radiation stronger – so watch out for that.

It’s also vital to stay be-spectacled this summer, even on cloudier days. But bear in mind that sunglasses offer varying levels of protection, and cheap pairs can be lacking. It’s wise to do your research to find a pair with either 99% or 100% UV protection.

We’ve got you covered

As a medical communications agency we have a wealth of experience working with skin and eye brands, so if you have anything you’d like to discuss with us, our door is always open.