Higher springtime UV radiation in Northern Europe

Higher springtime UV radiation in Northern Europe

April 3, 2012

Based on a multi-year EU-funded study (EuroSun), the International Prevention Research Institute (iPRI) in Lyon, has concluded that UV radiation in Europe appears earlier in the year and farther north than originally believed. Data gathered between 1988 and 1992 demonstrates that in spring, parts of Sweden, in Northern Europe, have as much UV radiation exposure as Sicily, in the Mediterranean. According to Professor Peter Boyle who initiated this study in 2007: “For decades, those growing up in Nordic countries and around the Baltic believed that they had little UV radiation risk, before summer. The new data shows that there is a real danger as early as spring. Without a doubt, Northern Europeans who wish to minimise the risks of skin cancer, must protect themselves earlier in the year.”

Though UV radiation peaks at the Summer Solstice, people all over Europe must take precautions by springtime. Irene Leigh OBE, Professor of Cellular and Molecular Medicine and senior fellow at iPRI insists: “For years, we have been advising people in Northern Europe to consider the sun dangerous from April to September and from 11AM until 3PM but despite multiple campaigns, Northern Europeans continue to believe that they need only take precautions at home during peak midday hours at the height of the summer; they believe that UV radiation dangers are limited to Mediterranean beaches in the hot summer months.”

Excess exposure to UV radiation is known to cause skin cancer, premature ageing of skin, allergic reactions and eye damage. Fortunately there are well-established ways to minimise these risks. On this matter, the International Prevention Research Institute is giving a clear public health message that there are specific precautions to minimise UV risks that continue to be neglected. The most important are to: 1) avoid direct exposure of the skin to sunlight wherever possible; 2) wear darker more densely woven clothing; 3) where cover is not possible, use sunscreen with a high SPF rating; 4) respect the instructions regarding frequency and quantity of sunscreen application; 5) do not use sunscreen to stay any longer in the sun; 6) during the zenith hours of 11AM to 3PM, avoid the sun altogether.

Professor Boyle has been calling for greater focus on skin related risks for several years. In an article published in 2004, Professor Boyle says: “Skin cancer is clearly identified as one form of cancer that will become more important in public health terms in the coming decades in the absence of effective intervention today.” Today he worries that all of us, both people and institutions, are not placing enough emphasis on prevention. In that same article, Boyle was already suspecting trouble in the North: “…the net effect is that melanoma mortality rates in the mid-1990s (1993-1997) are highest in Nordic countries and lowest in southern European populations, such as Greece, Spain and Portugal.”

Dr. Mathieu Boniol, the iPRI staff researcher specialised in the epidemiology of melanoma who has been instrumental in performing this study is hopeful that people will heed the mathematics and respect the sun. He insists: “I know how difficult it is to stay out of the sun, the sun feels good, but melanoma is not someone else’s disease, as incidence rates of malignant melanoma have increased more rapidly than any of the top ten cancers for both men and women in Europe. What’s more, we now have conclusive UV exposure data to corroborate the incidence data.”


iPRI — The International Prevention Research Institute brings together leading scientists internationally who are committed to the promotion of evidence-based prevention, with a special focus on low resource countries.

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The EuroSun project, titled “Quantification of sun exposure in Europe and its effects on health” is funded by the EU through the Public Health Executive Agency, grant n.2006320.

For more information or to arrange an interview with Prof. Boyle, Prof. Leigh or Dr. Boniol, email comm@i-pri.org or call the iPRI switchboard in France at +33472171199 and ask for Markus Pasterk.

Maps of the UV radiation footprint referred to in this news release are available on www.eurosun-project.org. Additional iPRI information is available at http://www.i-pri.org.

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