Fair skin and freckles – sun damage

“Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun”… Noel Coward.

My dad had reddish coloured hair, freckles and a naturally pale skin. He also loved to sit in the sun and encouraged me as a child to do the same, to be outside and active in the fresh air and sunshine.  Being sporty I was OK with that, but was disappointed and embarrassed by my constantly pink (read red) skin when I came back indoors!  Of course this was over 50 years ago when it was fashionable to have a “tan”. But like so many of my generation I’m now paying for my misdemeanours.

Scientists have established a link between skin cancers, redheads, fair skin and freckles. Redheads make up 6% of the UK population compared to a mere 1 to 2 % worldwide. Ultraviolet rays, either from sunlight, or artificially generated from sunbeds, can seriously damage one’s DNA.  Having inherited genes from my father, the fair skin and freckles in particular has put me at higher risk of skin cancer.  Nowadays we know to protect our skin with sun protection factor (SPF) and people are advised to spend time in the shade between 11 am and 3pm, to cover up and to wear a T shirt, hat and sunglasses.

Sadly none of this advice was available to my generation back in the 50’s and 60’s when a tan was desirable and fashionable. We smothered ourselves in olive or coconut oil, exposed ourselves our lily white skins, and “fried” in the midday sun.  On our hugely popular package holidays to “The Continent” little did we realise we were stacking up problems which would present themselves as skin cancers or pre-cancerous skin conditions some 30, 40 years later.

My skin damage first became evident on my shins, some 15 years ago. Basal cell carcinoma was diagnosed and treated with horrible creams (a type of local chemotherapy). More recent treatments for sun damage now presenting on my face have been more worrying.   Treatments include “freezing” but for some of the more serious sun damage, minor surgery is the suggested option. If you recognise the link between redheads, freckles, fair skin and a risk of skin cancer get your sun damage checked out.   Take my advice, cover up, use a sunscreen of at least SPF15 on the bits that you cannot cover up, and re-apply sunscreen regularly. And most importantly avoid being “out in the midday sun!”