Should I run outside without sunblock?
Peta Bee had never worn SPF when exercising. Then she went to see a dermatologist
Peering at my face through a magnifying glass, Dr Noor Almaani, a consultant dermatologist at The Private Clinic, fires questions about my sun exposure and skin history. No, I tell her, I’m not a sun worshipper and certainly don’t use sun-beds. I’ve never smoked or been so badly burnt that the skin on my face has blistered. I resolutely slap on the sunscreen at the first sign of any summer-y rays. “Always?”. Mostly. Well, rarely when doing sport, actually. It makes me sweat, gives me spots.
“And how often are you outside being active?” Erm, daily. For the best part of 35 years I have spent at least some time every day running, cycling or walking. It is what I believe has kept me healthy. Until now, aged 46.
Dr Almaani’s diagnosis is that the small, oddly shaped, pearly-white mark beside my nose, barely noticeable unless you look closely, is a basal cell carcinoma (BCC), a non-malignant type of skin cancer that affects about 100,000 people in the UK every year. Unlike malignant melanoma, the more serious and deadly form of the disease, it is, thankfully, mostly curable and rarely fatal unless not treated properly or detected early enough. It is relatively common and, along with squamous-cell carcinoma (SCC), another non-malignant type of the disease, accounts for up to 95 per cent of all skin cancers in the UK.
All forms are on the rise. A study by researchers at Public Health England last year found that there was a 30 per cent increase in hospital admissions for melanoma and a 43 per cent spike in admissions for non-melanoma skin cancer between 2007 and 2011.
Avoiding strong sunlight and using high-factor sun creams can render the disease, in all its guides, more preventable. Yet those most guilty of flouting these basic “sun sense” rules are not only to be found on sun-loungers, but are the fitness-obsessed and sporty, such as myself.
Simple steps such as covering the shoulders and back, wearing a peaked cap and sunglasses and reapplying sunscreen regularly can make all the difference. It’s no good slapping on some SPF 15 before an hour-long cycle and hoping it’s enough, Dr Almaani tells me. Those with fair skin like Nicole Kidman can start to burn within 60 seconds of being in strong sunshine. “Ideally, you need to put on an SPF 50 half an hour before you leave the house, an hour into your workout and every couple of hours after that,” Dr. Almaani says. “Even in windy weather or in the shade you can get burnt.”