Prevent skin cancer: protection from uv radiation

A mother sits with her child under a sunshade

Effective UV protection is important to prevent skin cancer. © Monkey Business, Fotolia

The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) and/or the German guideline for the prevention of skin cancer recommend the following measures for sustained protection against intensive and excessive UV radiation:

  • avoid strong sun – The sun shines more strongly at midday than in the morning or afternoon. Therefore, seek shade especially between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tip: If necessary, postpone outdoor activities to the morning and evening hours.
  • Wear clothing – The best protection against UV radiation is offered by clothing that does not allow light to pass through. also wear headgear that protects ears and neck.
  • Protect eyes – Wear sunglasses with UV-protective lenses and never look directly at the sun, even with sunglasses on.
  • Use sunscreen – You should apply sufficient sunscreen to all uncovered parts of the body. What is important, read under sunscreen use correctly.
  • Avoid sunburn – Since every sunburn increases the risk of skin cancer, you should avoid sunburns at all costs.
  • Protect babies and children – Babies and toddlers under 2 years of age should not be exposed to the sun at all with bare skin. With children of all ages you should consistently pay attention to the sun protection.
  • protect well in water – Wear special bathing clothes and reapply sunscreen after bathing.
  • inform about medication – Pay attention to side effects caused by sun radiation, seek medical advice in case of doubt.
  • avoid solariums – Do not go to the solarium. Especially younger people should keep this in mind.
  • Be a role model – Parents should teach their children the correct way to deal with sun radiation.

Follow these sun protection measures in descending order at best. This means: primarily avoid direct sunlight on the skin and first cover it with opaque clothing. Sunscreen should not come first and should only be used on uncovered areas of the skin.

If UV radiation enters the eyes, it can damage them. Therefore, the protective measures of the authority and professional societies also take into account the UV protection of the eyes.

Tip: Lips are particularly sensitive to UV radiation, so protect your lips as well – for example, with a lip balm with a sun protection factor.

Read more

Advice on sun protection from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection can be found on the BfS website "Tips on UV protection".

The German guideline on skin cancer prevention also includes recommendations on UV protection.

Keep the following in mind when protecting yourself from the sun

It is especially important to consider the personal skin type for appropriate sun protection. And even if you use sunscreen, there are things to consider.

In addition, other factors can be helpful in assessing in advance how much sun protection is necessary in the current situation. How strong the sun’s radiation is depends on several aspects, such as the current weather conditions.

The UV index indicates how strong the sun is shining and should help to estimate how much sun protection is necessary. The rule is: the higher the UV index, the more necessary the sun protection. © Cancer Information Service, DKFZ

weather conditions: How strong the sun shines – and thus how much UV radiation affects people who spend time outdoors – is not always the same. Influencing factors include the time of year or how cloudy the sky is.

To estimate the current risk at a certain location, the UV index helps. It indicates how strong the sun is currently shining and will be shining in the next few days – and thus how much sun protection is necessary.

  • You can check the UV index at the Federal Office for Radiation Protection or at the German Weather Service.
  • Read more about the UV index at: Briefly explained: UV index or under Ultraviolet radiation.

Thin cloud cover does little to block UV radiation, and even in the shade you are exposed to low levels of UV radiation. Therefore, always make sure you have adequate protection.

Experts recommend considering not only the current weather conditions, but also factors such as altitude and the reflection of UV radiation when protecting yourself from the sun.

Altitude: The higher you are above sea level, the stronger the effect of UV radiation on people. This means: In the mountains you need more sun protection – for example a higher sun protection factor of the sun cream.

Reflection: UV radiation can be reflected by light-colored surfaces such as snow or sand. This increases the effect. And water also reflects UV radiation.

UV protection also at work

Employed people who work outdoors are regularly exposed to UV radiation during their working hours. Experts estimate that about one-third of the UV radiation they encounter in a lifetime results from their daily work routine. This can increase your risk of skin cancer in the long term. However, people in occupational settings can also be exposed to UV radiation from artificial sources, such as welding.

There are legal regulations in Germany to protect outdoor workers from the sun’s UV radiation.

Important: People who are occupationally exposed to UV radiation should take the sun protection measures of their company.

Read more

Light and shade" brochure from the Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health on protection against solar radiation for outdoor workers.

Paying attention to the individual skin type

For children, skin type is irrelevant: their skin is always particularly sensitive and therefore always needs intensive protection.

The advice on how to deal with UV radiation applies to all people. However, not everyone is equally sensitive to UV radiation: the individual skin type determines how much sun one can tolerate.

People with fair skin and light blond or red hair are especially sensitive. You often get sunburned after only 5 to 10 minutes in midsummer without protection and practically don’t get a tan. For them, appropriate protective measures are particularly important.

However, sunburns and other damage caused by UV radiation cannot be completely ruled out even for people with very dark skin, although it is very rare.

Four women with different skin types show their legs

Not every skin type is equally sensitive to UV radiation. © Anna Shvets, Pexels

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection provides information about the different skin types. There you can also test your personal skin type yourself – but if you are unsure about this, it is advisable to seek medical advice.

Do not overestimate your own protection: The skin can build up a slight self-protection against UV radiation. However, this does not protect the skin as much as some people think. Even skin that is tanned or accustomed to the sun will not provide adequate protection against long-term damage from UV radiation in the long run. This is shown by research conducted by the German Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (Bundesanstalt fur Arbeitsschutz).

Use sunscreen correctly

Using sunscreen shouldn’t automatically make you stay out in the sun longer. Also note the other protective measures.

Modern sunscreens can effectively prevent skin damage if used correctly. However, whether the risk of skin cancer actually decreases with the use of sunscreen has not yet been clearly proven scientifically and is being further researched. And even very effective sunscreens cannot completely protect against health risks from UV radiation.

Nevertheless, effective UV protection is an integral part of skin cancer prevention recommendations – as is proper sunscreen use.

Woman uses sunscreen © boophotography/Thinkstock

If you use sunscreen, there are a few things to keep in mind. © boophotography, Thinkstock

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection and/or the German guideline for the prevention of skin cancer recommend the following to apply sunscreen correctly:

  • Choose the appropriate sun protection factor – If you use sunscreen, you should select an appropriate sun protection factor.
  • use enough cream – Apply about 2 milligrams of sunscreen evenly for 1 square centimeter of skin. If you use less, the indicated sun protection factor decreases. Tip: For the entire body, it is about 40 milliliters of sunscreen or about 4 heaping tablespoons.
  • apply sunscreen in time – Apply sunscreen about 30 minutes before you go out in the sun.
  • reapply cream regularly – every 2 hours and after bathing. But beware: this does not extend the protection time, but maintains it.
  • Pay attention to UV-A filters – The UV-A seal should be visibly displayed on the product. Because then the cream protects not only from short-wave UV-B radiation, but also from the long-wave UV-A radiation, which penetrates deeper into the skin.
  • Check the ingredients – This is how you can check if there are substances in it to which you might be hypersensitive.

Important to know: Even when used correctly, sunscreens cannot fully protect against UV radiation. Therefore, you should always pay attention to other UV protection measures as well.

The sun protection factor

sun protection factor (SPF): Indicates how much longer you can be in the sun without getting sunburned due to the protection of sunscreen; only takes UV-B radiation into account

Every human being has a certain inherent skin protection. The so-called self-protection time indicates how long the skin can be exposed to the sun without protection before it gets sunburned. How long the personal self-protection time is depends mainly on the individual skin type and the current weather conditions. The sun protection factor indicates how much a sunscreen product extends the self-protection time.

For example, if you apply a product with a sun protection factor of 20, you can stay in the sun 20 times longer than without the sunscreen. People with a self-protection time of about 10 minutes can then stay outside for about 200 minutes – a little more than 3 hours – without getting sunburned.

No sunscreen product provides complete protection against UV radiation, and even a very high sun protection factor does not guarantee absolute "safety" Sunbathing.

Good to know: Long-term skin damage can occur not only after a sunburn. To avoid skin damage, experts say you should never fully use the protection time provided by the sun protection factor.

The higher the SPF of a product, the higher its UV protection. Sunscreens are divided into the following 4 protection levels according to their sun protection factors.

  • Light protection: SPF 6 to 10
  • Medium protection: SPF 15 to 25
  • High protection: SPF 30 to 50 and
  • Very high protection: SPF more than 50

According to the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection, children should use products with an SPF of at least 30 and adults of at least 20 – but depending on your skin type and sunshine, you may want to choose a higher SPF.

According to experts, people with sensitive skin or who spend time in the mountains, in the snow, in and around water and/or in southern countries should better choose a higher sun protection factor (SPF). This also applies to midsummer. In this case, an SPF of 50 or higher is recommended.

In order to achieve the stated sun protection factor, it is important to use the recommended amount of sunscreen. If you apply less, the indicated protective effect is reduced by about two-thirds. A sparingly applied SPF 30 therefore only has the protective effect of an SPF 10.

To read on

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection provides detailed information on UV protection by sunscreen.

Sunscreen: A health risk?

According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, sunscreens available in the European Union (EU) are not harmful to health. According to current knowledge, they also do not increase the risk of cancer.

Sunscreens are cosmetic products. This means that every product and every ingredient it contains – including all UV filters – are first tested for safety by a scientific panel of the EU Commission. Only then can they be sold in the EU. Manufacturers can therefore only use UV filters if it has been ensured and proven that they are harmless to health.

At the federal level, the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) tests the safety of commercially available UV filters and rates most of them as harmless to health in principle.

UV filters: Sunscreens contain filters that do not allow UV radiation to reach the skin (organic filters). These so-called UV filters can protect the skin from direct solar radiation.

  • Physical filters (mineral filters) act through microscopic particles. These nanoparticles lie on the skin like a fine veil and reflect the UV radiation on the skin surface.
  • Chemical filters (organic filters) absorb the UV rays and convert them into heat. You can trigger skin allergies more easily.

Many products combine physical and chemical UV filters – i.e. contain both filter substances.

Read more

Early detection of skin cancer

Regular screening examinations as part of skin cancer prevention are designed to detect conspicuous changes in the skin as early as possible. Because: If doctors detect skin cancer early, those affected usually have a better chance of recovery.

Skin cancer screening includes inspection of the entire body every 2 years starting at age 35

Legally insured people can go for skin cancer screening every 2 years starting at age 35. © Cancer Information Service, DKFZ

In Germany there is the so-called skin cancer screening for early detection. It is part of the statutory early cancer detection program. During the examination, a specially trained physician checks the entire skin for conspicuous changes.

Good to know: Some health insurers offer their insureds additional benefits that go beyond those required by law: They pay for skin cancer screening, for example, even for younger people. If you wish, you can ask your own health insurance company about special features.

Self-examination: In addition, you should regularly examine your skin yourself. If you notice any suspicious changes, you should have them checked by a dermatologist.

Read more

You can read more about screening and self-examination under Early Skin Cancer Detection.

Vitamin D: How much sun is needed?

While too much UV radiation indisputably leads to permanent skin damage, a certain amount of sun exposure to the skin is necessary for good health. Because UV-B radiation stimulates vitamin D to form in the body. This is important for the metabolism of calcium and phosphate and thus helps to build or maintain bones.

Complete sun protection can lead to a deficiency of vitamin D – but this is not to be expected under normal circumstances. Because even a small amount of sun exposure is enough to form the amount of vitamin D that is necessary for health. The body can also store vitamin D.

According to experts, it is sufficient to spend 2 to 3 times a week outdoors about half of the time in which one would get a sunburn unprotected. For people with skin type II, which is common in Germany, about 12 minutes each on 2 to 3 days per week from spring to fall is sufficient to meet their vitamin D needs. Hands, arms and face should be uncovered and without sunscreen during this process.

Attention – if you stay in the sun for a longer period of time, adequate UV protection is necessary.

Because sun protection is especially important for infants and young children, they should receive vitamin D supplements in consultation with their pediatrician until the second early summer after birth.

Vitamin D deficiency: According to experts, people who do not have an adequate supply of vitamin D should not compensate for this with additional UV radiation. If you are diagnosed with vitamin D deficiency, you can take vitamin D supplements under medical supervision. However, these are usually only necessary for at-risk groups – for example, infants, people with certain chronic diseases, or people who do not go outside much or at all.

For further reading

Consensus recommendation on UV radiation and vitamin D from the Federal Office for Radiation Protection in cooperation with the UV Protection Alliance

Detailed knowledge: sun and skin cancer risk

The main risk factor for almost all types of skin cancer is ultraviolet radiation (UV radiation). It is a natural part of solar radiation and is also used artificially in solariums.

The more UV radiation a person is exposed to in the course of his or her life, the greater the risk of developing skin cancer later on. But even short-term intense UV radiation, which usually leads to sunburn, causes long-term damage to the skin.

Even though UV radiation is the main cause of skin cancer, even consistent UV protection cannot reliably prevent the disease. Because in the development of cancer, other factors play a role – especially random errors that occur in the genetic material over time.

More and more people are contracting skin cancer: The number of patients newly diagnosed with skin cancer each year has risen in recent decades. In the meantime, around 230.000 people a year are diagnosed with light skin cancer and around 23.000 fall ill with black skin cancer. Experts predict that these numbers will continue to rise in the coming years.

Experts see the main reason for this in the fact that people’s leisure habits have changed. Today, they expose themselves to the sun much more intensively than in the past and travel more frequently to sunny countries.
But beauty ideals have probably also contributed to the fact that more and more people develop skin cancer. With the goal of having the taniest skin possible, they go to the solarium more often or sunbathe more extensively.

In addition, changing environmental conditions play a role: If the ozone layer of the atmosphere is disturbed, more UV-B radiation can reach the earth’s surface. According to current knowledge, small holes in the ozone layer are increasingly appearing over Europe as a result of global warming. It is still unclear whether climate change will also cause a general increase in UV radiation on earth and whether this will have an influence on how often skin cancer occurs in the future.

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