The Big Cover-Up

By: Tony Dear

The only safe tan is a fake one, say skincare experts. So forget trying to brown up this summer, take the necessary precautions and choose your sunscreen wisely.

Pale and pasty is not a good look. Tanned skin just looks better, suggesting health, wealth and vitality, right? Wrong! A sun tan may well be the result of expensive vacations in faraway places, but it is anything but healthy according to just about every dermatologist you’ll find in the Yellow Pages. In fact, it’s a sign of skin damage that could be a precursor to skin cancer.

“There is a big misconception promoted by most media that a tan is a sign of health,” says Dr. Mariano Busso at the University of Miami. “A tan actually signifies that skin has been damaged by ultraviolet radiation. Melanin, the dark pigment in your skin, moves to the surface to provide protection from burning. Your skin darkens in response to damage on top of damage. If there is too much sun and not enough melanin you increase the risk of burning and perhaps developing skin cancer. More than 90 percent of skin cancers develop on areas of the body exposed to the sun.”

No one can be certain exactly how many people in the UK are diagnosed with skin cancer every year. Cancer Research UK, which launched in February 2002 following the merger of The Cancer Research Campaign and Imperial Cancer Research Fund, puts the figure at 70,000. Private healthcare provider, BUPA, suggests it’s nearer 60,000 while independent web site estimates 40,500 are affected.     

It is known that more than 5,000 of these new patients put themselves at risk by playing golf without taking the necessary “safe-sun” precautions. In the U.S., 75,000 of the more than 1 million people diagnosed with skin cancer each year are golfers.

The greatest fear, of course, is the dreaded melanoma, a malignant tumor that begins in cells which produce skin pigmentation (melanocytes) and which is by far the most serious form of the disease. According to Cancer Research UK, melanomas account for less than 3% of all skin cancers in Britain but cause more than three-quarters of all skin cancer fatalities. Statistics from the American Cancer Society confirm its threat: of the roughly 10,500 deaths attributed to skin cancer a year in the U.S., only slightly less than 8,000 are linked to melanomas.

The incidence of melanoma in northern Europe, Australia, the UK and the U.S. has increased rapidly over the last half-century thanks to the shrinking ozone layer, allowing more and more ultraviolet radiation reach the Earth’s surface. In America, the risk of diagnosis was 1 in 1,500 in 1935, 1 in 250 in 1980 and 1 in 120 in 1990. Today, it stands at 1 in 71. The death rate from melanoma tripled between 1952 and 1992.

In Europe, the number of cases leaped to over 7,000 in 2000 – an increase of 16% from the previous year and 24% over the previous five years. Sara Hiom, head of health information at Cancer Research UK says melanoma rates in Britain are increasing faster than that of any other major cancer. “About 1,700 people die from melanoma in the UK each year,” she says. “That figure, and the fact that melanoma incidence in men has increased by 42% over the last 10 years and is likely to continue increasing, gives great cause for concern and provides a stark warning of the dangers of over-exposure to the sun.”

So how long in the sun constitutes over-exposure? The length of time it takes to play a round of golf, say?

“Absolutely, golfers are at a high risk,” says Priti Odedra, vice-president of business development for Revenir Skincare, a skin-protection system designed in conjunction with Japanese corporation, Mikuni. “Golfers are often out in the midday sun for as long as four to five hours and many tend not to apply any sunscreen because if they sweat they think harmful chemicals may run into their eyes or, after applying it with their hands, they’re afraid of losing their grip on the club.”

Because of these fears and because she felt so many of today’s products could actually damage people’s skin, Odedra teamed up with Vitaleaf Technologies in California to produce one of the world’s most advanced sunscreens – Sundurance. “It is made up mostly of natural ingredients including purified water, beeswax, shea butter, evening primrose oil and algae extract,” she says. “What active ingredients it does have (octyl methoxycinnamate 7.5%, micronized titanium dioxide 4%) are either micro-encapsulated in protective silicate spheres, or micronized. When applied to the skin, the silicate spheres lay on the surface without penetrating it and cannot be felt or seen yet form a solid layer of protection on top of the skin, not inside it as is the case with most sunscreens you find on the High Street.”

Like all good-quality suncare products, Sundurance is a ‘broad-spectrum’ sunscreen which means it filters out both long-wave UVA rays that penetrate deep into the skin causing premature ageing, and shorter-wave UVB rays which affect the surface and are responsible for sunburn and most skin damage (UVC rays are absorbed by the Earth’s upper-atmosphere but with the ozone layer becoming ever thinner they may too become a concern).

Most, if not all sunscreens, do a good job of dealing with UVB rays but few can resist or reflect UVA rays to quite the same degree. The most common ingredients manufacturers use to combat UVA are avobenzone and the even more commonly used zinc oxide, which may be present in 90% or more of sunscreens available in Europe despite the fact the EU’s Scientific Committee on Cosmetic Products (SCCP) has yet to officially approve its use. “Micronized zinc oxide is still used in European sunscreen formulas due to a lack of enforcement,” says Tom Dervartanian, executive vice president at Vitaleaf. “Although not officially approved due to a lack of acceptable safety data, micronized zinc oxide is not officially banned either.”

A report issued by the highly respected Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina in April 2000, concluded zinc oxide actually provided superior UVA protection to titanium dioxide but a handful of companies, Mikuni among them, beg to differ believing the industry will soon experience a wholesale shift towards titanium dioxide. “After a couple of hours, when your sunscreen has probably worn off, zinc oxide continues to turn off your body’s response to UVA,” says Odedra. “So it is possible to continue burning without really knowing it. We believe micronized titanium dioxide is safer over a longer period of time.”

The SCCP doesn’t necessarily concur with that statement, but it is taking some time to establish the chemical’s safety to consumers. At present it is looking into the possibility it could be photoclastogenic (causes damage to chromosomes), aneugenic (causes changes in the number of chromosomes) and/or a photo-DNA damaging agent (it should be noted, clastogenic, aneugenic or DNA damage are not always carcinogenic).

BASF, the company that produces zinc oxide for the highly regarded sunscreen Proderma Prism, has no doubts regarding its safety, however. “Patented sunscreen formulations containing the Z-COTE brand of zinc oxide go on clear and form a protective barrier, not just against the sun’s UVB rays, but also against the UVA rays that have been shown to cause premature aging and long-term skin damage,” says BASF chemist Kay Gada. “Z-COTE is the only sunscreen ingredient that is recognized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a Category I Skin Protectant, and is recommended for use on compromised skin.”

Although not officially represented by any player on the PGA Tour, Proderma is used by a number of top professionals, including one former British Open champion who, according to the testimonials page on the company’s web site, likes the non-greasy, odorless formula and its ability to prevent burning.

Eagerly promoting Sundurance is David Leadbetter, whose father succumbed to melanoma and whose Sun Awareness Campaign was launched at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January. After experiencing great results with Revenir, Mikuni’s skin rejuvenation product, Leadbetter approached the company in September 2004 with a view to taking his ‘Protect, Prevent and Preserve’ message to the fairways.

“Too much exposure to the sun is a huge problem confronting golfers and it’s becoming more serious as the game gets ever more popular,” he says. “I want to help make the public aware there is a very real danger.”

That danger goes well beyond melanoma, albeit to less serious conditions like cataracts and less aggressive skin cancers such as Basal Cell and Squamous Cell both of which are totally curable if detected early.

Obviously using a good quality sunscreen such as Sundurance, Molton Brown’s Active Defence City-Day Hydrator or Caudalie’s Vinosun (all of which use micro-encapsulation), L’Oreal’s Ombrelle, Proderma or Boots’ Soltan range (which don’t), is an essential component of any safe-sun routine. But before you even slap the screen on you can do a lot to ensure a decent level of protection simply by wearing clothes that have their own built-in SPF. Dunning Golf of Ontario, Canada, incorporates microfibre yarns into their FX Pique range of golf shirts (worn by Zach Johnson and Bob Estes among others), which are lightweight, wickable, and provide more surface coverage than non-microfibre shirts making them extremely good blockers of UV rays (40+ SPF). Adidas’s ClimaCool range also provides good UV protection.

And, in addition to the shirt, you’ll need a hat with at least a four-inch brim, lip balm with an SPF of 15 and a good pair of sunglasses which will not only protect your eyes but help you read greens better and reduce glare. Check out PeakVision, Oakley, Adidas, Nike, Callaway, NXT, Ion-Ray and Bolle.

Combine all the above with some good old common sense – don’t play in the heat of the midday sun if you can possibly avoid it – and you may be playing the game well into retirement. Fail to heed the advice you’ve been hearing for a decade or more and, well, the sun might just retire you.

Facts About the Sun

Concern doesn’t stop at cancer.

Melanoma and other forms of skin cancer are obviously the biggest threats to golfers, sunbathers and others who spend long periods outdoors, but the list of problems exposure to the sun can cause doesn’t end with the Big C.

Contrary to the commonly-held belief that a suntan is a sign of health, tanned skin is in fact damaged skin. Your skin flakes after sunbathing because the outer layers of cells are dead and are being removed. Tenderness, pain, edema (swelling of any organ or tissue), red and/or peeling skin, rash, nausea and fever are all connected with sunburns which may be first or second-degree burns.

People who lie in the sun for long periods develop tough, leathery, saggy skin. So if you’re 25 and don’t want to look like Judith Chalmers, cover up or get inside.

Over-exposure to the sun can cause cataracts and macular degeneration.

It is not uncommon for a person to become allergic to the sun and develop blisters, sores and red blotches when the UV index (scale showing sun’s ultraviolet radiation levels) is high – five or above. Cosmetics and perfumes can make your skin sensitive to the sun.

Even short-term exposure to the sun can cause the immune system to be suppressed making the body more susceptible to infection. Also, some ailments such as chicken pox, lupus and cold sores have been known to worsen after a period in the sun.

For many years skin has been classified by its color and proneness to burning. There are six skin types – ranging from pale white with freckles (and blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes) to brown/dark (with brown or black hair and brown eyes). People with Skin Type 1 never get a suntan and are very prone to burning. They must be especially careful in the sun. Skin Type 6 never burns and always tans, but even people with this type must practice ‘safe sun’.

During a trip to America’s deep South recently, I packed Sundurance sunscreen instead of the usual cheap stuff you can pick up at a drug store. It went on effortlessly, cleanly and prevented any sign of burning. Normally, in a sun as potent as Louisiana’s, my nose would turn bright red. But it, and indeed my whole face, ears and neck, remained their usual color. The club didn’t slip in my hand nor did nasty chemicals run into my eyes. And it’s clinically proven to remain active on the skin after 24 hours. For more information, visit

Although officially an SPF 30, Proderma Prism’s actual SPF is rated in excess of 50. Vitamins A, C and E and natural herbal extracts nourish the skin and provide anti-oxidants. Like Sundurance, Proderma kept my nose in good condition, preventing any burning or reddening. It is quick-drying, odourless, non-greasy, hypoallergenic and noncomedogenic (it won’t clog pores). It’s a lot cheaper too. NB Proderma Prism does contain zinc oxide. For more information, visit


The single-color filter in your standard polycarbonate lens can’t deal with a bright sky and dark terrain at the same time as a typical putting surface reflects only 2% of the ambient light. What you see therefore tends to be a little distorted. In response, PeakVision developed a ‘Dual-Zone’ with different filters in the upper and lower zones of the lens. In the upper zone, neutral-density gray filtration eliminates overhead glare from the sun and enhances distance perception. This zone gradually transitions into the lower, amber zone which enhances your ability to read the topography of the green. So says PeakVision . . . and they’re not wrong. Until recently, I would never have considered wearing such a posy pair of specs on the course. But get over the novelty of looking like a teched-up tour pro and you too will benefit from greater clarity and, because your irises and pupils are making fewer compensations, more relaxed and stable eyes. For more information, visit


1) Try to complete most of your round before 11am or start after 3 p.m.

2) Wear tightly woven fabrics, a wide-brimmed hat which shades the face, neck and ears and sunglasses.

3) Lips are extremely vulnerable, so protect them with a lip-balm with an SPF of at least 15.

4) Use only ’broad spectrum’ sunscreens with an SPF of at least 15 (SPF 30 usually costs way more but gives only 3% added protection). Apply generously 15-20 minutes before going outside and at the turn. Ensure avobenzone, titanium dioxide or Mexoryl (another UVA blocker) are on the list of active ingredients. Zinc oxide is another widely used UVA blocker but be aware that it has not yet been approved by the EU due to a lack of sufficient data concerning its safety.

5) Sand and water reflect UV rays so keep it in the short grass.

This article originally appeared in the UK’s Play Better Golf.     

Tony Dear has been writing about golf for 11 years. A former assistant club pro from Sussex, England, Tony started out as a freelancer in 1992 before taking a staff writer’s job at Fore!, a magazine based in Peterborough. As the magazine’s chief instruction writer, it was Tony’s job to compose instructional articles aimed at a youngish readership whose letters to the editor suggested they often got confused by technical jargon and theory. Tony brought his simple approach to teaching golf to the magazine, helping boost sales by 10,000 issues. As a result, he was nominated within the company and nationally for Young Writer of the Year awards.

From there, Tony moved 20 yards across the Emap UK office to join Today’s Golfer. There, he was soon promoted to a senior editorial position, focusing on equipment, and became a significant part of a team that saw sales figures double within the magazine’s first 12 months.

After three years at Emap UK, Tony was dragged kicking and screaming across the Atlantic by his American wife ("not really, I love it over here") and, after short spells in Phoenix and Denver, wound up in Seattle in May 2003. He recently moved to Bellingham in the far northwest corner of the far Northwest of the U.S. and became a father to a son on whom he has already staked £5 for the 2029 Open Championship. At present, he is freelancing for a number of print and online publications back in England including Today’s Golfer, Golf World, Bogey, The Open Championship Magazine and He is also a contributing editor for Denver-based Colorado AvidGolfer.

Recent features include a look at Colorado’s self proclaimed ‘links’ courses, an interview with Suzy Whaley, with whom he played nine holes ("and got soundly thrashed") and a 64-page instruction supplement for Today’s Golfer.

Tony has authored three books in the last five years and been nominated for several specialist and young writers awards. "Although I’ve never actually won one," he admits. He is a member of the Northwest Golf Media Association and the Golf Travel Writers Association based in London. 

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