Fair Skin And Freckles – Sun Damage

It was the late and great Noel Coward coined the phrase only “Mad Dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun” I am reminded of it whenever I see everyone raising their faces to the Sun whenever it deigns to peek through our British clouds.

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!”

Question 1

I recently lost my husband and feel so low. We had over 50 years together; I miss him so much it’s making me feel quite unwell. My hubby did everything for me, we had a good social life and my family are concerned. What can I do to help myself come to terms with my lonely life?

Dorothy Webb – Newcastle

Answer 1

Dorothy I’m sorry you’re feeling unable to cope after the loss of your dear husband. It’s quite understandable, but wellbeing is not just about our bodies, it’s about our mind and spirit too. Being active can help reduce feelings of loneliness, anxiety, stress and worry, so make an effort to get out there, and get talking. Talking through personal worries will often halve your problems, or at least put them into perspective.  You are blessed with family, not everyone is so fortunate and many find themselves living alone not through choice.  This can follow divorce or the death of a partner leading to isolation and depression. Social interaction can reduce the feelings of loneliness and can lift your spirit. Climbing out of the spiral of depression takes a lot of effort and self-motivation Living alone it’s important you maintain mobility and keep your body strong. Having a positive attitude is all important and you might benefit from an exercise class at your local Sports Centre.  Classes can be social and a source of support. I you find it difficult to take part in physical activities ask your doctor or physiotherapist for their help and advice.

Question 2

With the short light summer nights, I am having a problem getting enough sleep.  I do not want to resort to sleeping pills.  What can I do to help myself? Jacky Williams Leicester

Answer 2 

Dear Jackie – would it help to say you’re not alone? Many of us have sleeping problems. Adults, on average need 8 hours sleep a night, but around 1 in 10 people in the UK suffer from insomnia and resort to sleeping tablets. Sleeping pills can provide a short term solution but for permanent solutions create a sleep friendly environment by making the bedroom a calm and tranquil space. Open the bedroom window a couple of hours before bedtime to keep it cool.  Light has a huge impact on sleep patterns, so keep the bedroom dark and you’ll sleep better.  Block light from windows with heavy curtains and cover up electrical items.  You could even try a sleep mask to cover your eyes.

Set your body clock by going to bed when you feel tired at a regular time even at weekends, so that you don’t toss and turn. Steer clear of alcohol before bed that nightcap may make you fall asleep faster but alcohol reduces your sleep quality, waking you up during the night.  Have a glass of milk; dairy products are rich in the amino acid tryptophan, which helps increase the production of the sleep inducing brain chemicals, serotonin and melatonin.  Avoid heavy, rich foods and vigorous exercise within two-hours of bed time.