Finns know the risks of solar UV radiation, yet many get sunburnt
With the spring sun beating down, you should turn your attention to protecting your skin from UV radiation. In almost all of the country, the UV index has already reached the minimum recommended level for protection, level 3.
“In Southern Finland, the UV index exceeds the minimum recommended level of protection on sunny days from mid-April until September. In Northern Finland the limit is exceeded on average from mid-May until early August”, explains researcher Kaisa Lakkala from the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
The solar UV radiation is strongest during the week before Midsummer and a few weeks after it.During these weeks, the UV index describing the intensity of UV radiation may exceed the limit for high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure, level 6, in the southern parts of Finland.
According to the latest climate projections, Finnish summers are estimated to be warmer in the future, which may tempt Finns to wear lighter clothing and consequently expose them to more solar UV radiation than today. According to the projections, the amount of solar radiation may also increase in the summer due to changes in cloudiness.
Finns are exposed to sun during everyday activities – UV index indicates the need for protection
The main adverse effects of UV radiation are skin burning and premature ageing, skin cancer, keratitis (snow blindness) and cataracts. According to a survey commissioned by the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK) in October 2022, Finns are more risk-aware of the health hazards caused by solar UV radiation and consider suntan less fashionable year by year. Despite this awareness, almost a quarter (23%) of survey respondents said that they get sunburnt at least once a year.
Sun protection is needed also during ordinary everyday activities and hobbies, not only when spending time at a beach. Most Finns (67%) are most exposed to the sun when spending time outdoors on terraces and in parks. Other popular ways of passing the time that expose people to the sun include gardening and other leisure activities (48%), outdoor exercise (40%), and outdoor activities (38%). Only 29% mentioned traditional sunbathing as an activity that exposes them to the sun.
"When protecting yourself against UV radiation, it is a good idea to combine several protection methods. Outdoor exercise can be scheduled for the morning, later afternoon or evening, when UV radiation is weaker. Around noontime you should stay in the shade or inside”, recommends Anne Höytö, Senior Specialist in UV radiation at STUK. According to Höytö, the skin should be protected primarily with clothing and eyes with UV-protected sunglasses. Sunscreen with a protection factor of at least 30 should be applied to exposed skin areas.
Knowing about UV index is a good tool when planning sun protection. Only 42% of Finns know what the UV index means and how to use it. 37% of Finns know about the UV index but do not use it and 21% do not know about the UV index at all.
“While you are looking at the weather forecast for the day, you should also check the UV index forecast. If the UV index forecast is at least on level 3, protection from the sun must be taken into account when preparing for the day’s outdoor activities”, Anne Höytö points out.
Small children are better protected against solar UV radiation than school-age children
According to a recent survey commissioned by the Cancer Society of Finland from Taloustutkimus market research company, children are relatively well protected from solar UV radiation. Almost 80% of parents say they always or almost always protect their children. The smaller the child, the more care the parents take of protecting the child. When the child reaches school age, the parents’ attention slips slightly.
The parents estimated that at least half of primary school children, one third of 3–6-year-olds and one fifth of 0–2-year-olds had burnt in the sun. According to the parents, a child's skin is usually left unprotected because of an oversight or because the child stays in the sun for longer than originally planned.
Nearly all the parents who responded to the survey were aware that if the skin gets sunburnt during childhood, it increases the risk of skin cancer later. However, some thought that if the child’s skin does not burn, the risk of skin cancer does not increase even if the child spends time under the sun. Nevertheless, large doses of UV radiation are harmful even if the skin does not burn. A significant part of lifelong sun exposure is received during childhood and youth. According to the survey, more than 60 per cent of children were outdoors for more than two hours daily or almost daily in spring and summer.
Melanoma increases in Finland at an annual rate of 5%
According to statistics from the Cancer Society of Finland, 981men and 798 women were diagnosed with melanoma in 2021.The covid year of 2020 caused a diagnostic gap and it has still not been closed. Melanoma is an increasingly frequent cancer diagnosis in the western countries, and the cases increase also in Finland with an annual rate of approximately five per cent.
“In 2021, the number of melanoma diagnoses was already as high as before covid. Yet there are missing diagnoses, as during 2020, the number of diagnoses was a lot lower than usually”, notes Karri Seppä of the Finnish Cancer Registry, a research institute of the Cancer Society of Finland.
Since we know that the number of diagnosed patients can suddenly not have dropped, the only remaining option is that the diagnoses of many melanomas have been delayed. According to Seppä, this is worrying because the later the melanoma is found, the further the disease has progressed. Melanoma spreads with metastasis already in a relatively early stage and treating a cancer that has spread with metastasis is considerably more challenging.
Finnish Meteorological Institute
UV index forecast in the online service of the Finnish Meteorological Institute at https://en.ilmatieteenlaitos.fi/uv-index. UV index can also be checked from the mobile application of the Finnish Meteorological Institute.
Researcher Kaisa Lakkala, Finnish Meteorological Institute, tel. +358 40 7476792, email@example.com
Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority (STUK)
Senior Specialist Anne Höytö, Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, tel. +358 975 988 305, firstname.lastname@example.org
STUK’s #yourskin campaign this summer will draw people’s attention to different ways of how they are exposed to the sun. The campaign also gives tips on how to protect yourself from UV radiation while engaged in your favourite activities. http://suniho.fi
The Cancer Society of Finland