Warnings on sunscreen bottles telling people to avoid applying lotion near their eyes are putting sunbathers at an heightened risk of cancer, new research reveals.
Dermatologists found that participants in a trial failed to apply any sun cream to key areas of the face – around a tenth of the surface area – despite these regions being the site of a significant proportion of skin cancers.
Experts described the results as “worrying” and warned all sun bathers to “go back to basics” with head-to-toe smotherings of factor 30 sun cream or stronger.
Scientists at the University of Liverpool asked 57 people to apply sun cream to their faces, but gave them no further instructions.
A UV-sensitive camera then found that three quarters failed to apply any to the area between the inner corner of the eye and the bridge of the nose, while on average 13.5 per cent of the participants’ eye lids were left unprotected.
Malignant skin cancers afflict more than 15,400 people in the UK each year, killing around 2,460, and up to 10 per cent begin on the eye lids.
Meanwhile nine in ten basel cell carcinomas, the most common of all forms in the UK, occurs on the head or neck.
These are flesh-coloured moles that bleed easily, but only rarely mutate to form tumours in other parts of the body.
The researchers found that, even after the people in the trial were told about the dangers of sun to the eyelids, there was only a slight improvement in sun cream application, with an average 7.7 per cent of the face protected, compared to 9.5 per cent before the warning.
They recommend that people wear sunglasses if they are too absent minded of squeamish to fully apply sun cream to the area around their eyes.
Dr Kevin Hamill of the University of Liverpool, one of the researchers, said: “It's worrying that people find it so hard to sufficiently apply sunscreen to their face, an area which is particularly at risk of skin cancer due to the amount of sun exposure it receives.
“Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this research is the importance of sunglasses.
“Most people consider the point of sunglasses is to protect the eyes, specifically corneas, from UV damage, and to make it easier to see in bright sunlight. However, they do more than that – they protect the highly cancer-prone eyelid skin as well.”
The research, which was presented at the British Association of Dermatologists’ annual conference, comes a month after health experts warned increasing number of British children are being put at risk because parents are abandoning sun cream.
An investigation by NHS England and the Met Office found that almost two-fifths of parents mistakenly believe that suntans are a sign of good health.
NHS England said the findings showed a “worryingly relaxed attitude” towards sun care among the parents of young children, highlighting the fact that one in 10 parents of children aged two to seven admitted they have encouraged them to sunbathe.
Matthew Gass, from the British Association of Dermatologists, said: “As sunscreen is one of the main protections against UV damage and skin cancer, it is vital that people understand how to apply it.
“Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the UK, and numbers continue to rise at a worryingly fast rate.”
In May the consumer group Which? warned that so-called “once a day” sun creams were raising people’s risk of skin cancer because they tended to wash off in just a few hours.