Our club man thought he was vigilant when it came to the dangers of the sun. Then he saw his face under ultra-violet light
Steve Boothroyd has paused for dramatic effect. I’ve just lifted my head out of a contraption that looks like something they took pictures with 150 years ago and, if I’m honest, I’m a little bit apprehensive.
Without protection, I can last about 10 minutes in the midday sun. Then I can just feel my skin heating up and I’m compelled to run for shade.
Fair haired, and fairer skinned, I’ve used sun cream religiously all my life. From the start of March until the end of October, I won’t step on a golf course without it.
I’m not talking about a brief sliver wiped across the forehead, either. I use it in volume and I use it often.
I wear a hat constantly. I have wrap around polarising sunglasses that maximise protection from ultra violet light.
And yet, as I wait to see the damage that 43 years on the planet has done to my skin, I’m not confident about the results.
The picture is about to be revealed and, whatever it was shows, that image previously unseen will become a permanent fixture in my brain.
“We want people to think about why, and how, their skin is getting damaged and what they can do about it,” says Boothroyd, the man behind the unusual looking camera and a volunteer at skin cancer charity Skcin UK.
“It’s only education and what we want to do is raise the awareness of people and say ‘actually, the damage is being caused but you don’t necessarily always see it’.
“You’ve got damage you didn’t know was there, it’s being caused by the sun, so what can you do about it?
“That allows us to think about the five S’s of sun safety: slipping on clothing, slopping on cream, slapping on a hat, sliding on some sunglasses and seeking the shade wherever you can.”
There has been a 45 per cent increase in the number of skin cancer cases in the UK over the past half decade.
Some 250,000 people are diagnosed each year, a figure Skcin chief executive Marie Tudor actually believes to be an underestimation.
“The skin is the biggest organ in the body,” she says. “It is the only cancer you can see and 86 per cent of cases are preventable. So why don’t we do something about it?
“It’s costing the NHS £350 million a year. All that money is being spent and it’s an absolute no-brainer that we need to be taking protection more seriously.”
That’s clearly an imperative for golfers – a sport that takes place under the unforgiving glare of the sun’s rays.
I’ve played the sport all of my adult life and a fair chunk of my childhood. I travel all over the country and can be on a golf course, for hours at a time, three or four times a week in the height of the season.
Which is why, even despite the precautions I take, I’m nervous. Steve shows me the first picture. It’s me as I am, a slightly unflattering image but it’s the face I see in the mirror in the morning.
Then he shows me the second portrait, this time of my face under ultra-violet light. I gasp. It’s covered in dark spots.
“They look a bit like freckles but they are signs of sun damage,” explains Boothroyd. “The ultra violet is absorbed by a substance called melanin. That is your skin’s natural protectant and it’s a pigment that absorbs ultra violet really well.
“If the melanin forms a continuous film and floats to the surface then you would call it a tan. You say ‘what a fantastic tan I’ve got’.
“In reality, what you’ve got is very consistent damage. A dermatologist would say there is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan is simply a sign of damage.
“So what we can see here is damage that sits underneath the skin. You can’t see it at the surface but you can below. That’s the wow moment.
“The reason you can see the little melanin spots is that your skin has detected that damage is being done, or detected there is UV around, and it starts to protect itself.
“100% of people who are of a certain skin type will show some sort of damage. We don’t use sun cream all the time, or protect ourselves all the time and we don’t sit in a dark box all the time.
“Going out in the sun is good, we like the warmth, we like being outside and it is really healthy for you.
“It’s all good stuff but we don’t protect ourselves and, from an early age, we are encouraged to be outside and we don’t always wear sun protection.
“Unless you are wearing sun protection 100% of the time, from the minute you walk out of the house to the minute you walk back in, you are going to get some level of damage.”
If that was an eye-opener for me, then it should be for the rest of you as well – who enjoy a spell out in the summer warmth and, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic finally start to subside, a pint or two on the terrace.
“This is 43 years of sun exposure,” concludes Boothroyd as we scan the picture of my heavily marked face. “This photograph is unique to you. Nobody else has a photograph like this.
“Now check your skin on a regular basis. Wherever you expose your skin, there is a risk of skin cancer or some damage possibly leading to skin cancer.
“It’s checking your back, legs, soles of your feet, toenails. If you see anything you don’t feel comfortable with go and see your GP, get taken to a dermatology clinic and they will then make an assessment using the tools, skills and knowledge they have.”
You can learn more about Skcin by visiting their website.
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