Citizens beware: it has come to my knowledge that the vast majority of Europeans are being regularly exposed to a potentially lethal stimulant. The stimulant has been shown to increase alertness, improve attractiveness, lift mood and induce positive feelings. Studies suggest it is potentially addictive. Some citizens are understood to become depressed without it. It appears that many are willing to travel thousands of kilometres to find it. On encountering the stimulant, it has been observed that people often remove most of their clothes.
I am of course talking about sunlight, or more particularly UV rays, surely the world’s most abundant beneficial, yet potentially harmful, phenomenon. Beneficial because the observations above are true (I could also have mentioned sunlight as a source of vitamin D). Who among us does not feel a little better under the gentle caress of the sun, especially here where I write in grey northern European climes? And it is now difficult to imagine that suntans were once associated with poverty and ugliness, the result of toiling in the fields rather than say, Christmas in Barbados. Donald Trump has one – need I say more?
But UV rays can be deadly. Even a little sunburn can be the source of the very aggressive forms of skin cancer which are a major and growing source of cancer death. Some cancer can even be traced to sunburn in childhood. Sunlight can also cause premature aging. In one striking example of this, it has been shown that some truck drivers in the US have significantly more wrinkles on the left – (window exposed) side of their faces.
There are two things we all need to know about exposure to the sun. First, if you get sunburned, you are taking a major risk with your health, which in the worst case leads to premature death. Second, sunscreen, properly applied, will help protect you.
So we are all applying sunscreen to avoid burns right? Wrong. Even people who are meticulous about driving carefully, watching their diet and doing exercise, can be careless about protecting their skin. Sunburn is too often treated as a minor irritation and part of the holiday experience. Evidence suggests that a significant number of people who do apply sunscreen, do not do so correctly, for example because they do not re-apply regularly, or they apply cream too thinly. In particular, parents who allow their children to burn are endangering them in a way they would consider totally reckless in other circumstances.
It’s holiday time in Europe, most of us will soon be off to the beach or the mountains, and very few of us are hoping for rainy days. It’s a good time to raise awareness of the major health benefits of sunscreen, and also to address some of the knowledge gaps we know exist. Cosmetics Europe has produced a series of videos to do just that, focusing on some of the key issues citizens need to understand if they are to adequately protect themselves from UV harm. Check out the Cosmetics Europe Twitter and LinkedIn accounts.
So, keep safe this summer. Take your sunscreen. Use it properly. Enjoy the sunny weather. And of course, feel free to take your clothes off.
John Chave, Director General, Cosmetics Europe