PUBLIC health officials are urging residents and holiday makers in Mid Devon to enjoy the current summer sunshine safely.

Devon has some of the highest rates of skin cancer in the country, with over 250 cases of malignant melanoma per year and 40 related deaths.

About four in five cases of skin cancer could be prevented through avoiding overexposure and staying safe in the sun.

Skin cancer is caused by over-exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either directly from the sun or from sunbeds.

Devon County Council's Cllr Andrea Davis, who is in charge of health and wellbeing, said: “The current warm sunny weather makes us all feel better, and has a beneficial effect on our health and wellbeing, as well as on the local economy.

“However, it's important to make sure we enjoy the sun safely by covering up, wearing a hat, shades, and at least factor 15 sunscreen.

“It's also essential to protect children, as their skin is delicate and very easily damaged by the sun. Children who get sunburnt could be at an increased risk of skin cancer later on in life. Keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight, especially around midday.”

And after several years of washout summers, people are being warned not to forget the dangers of burning, by forgetting to protect themselves from the sun.

Dr Tony Downs, Consultant Dermatologist and skin cancer lead clinician at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, Exeter, said: “Binge-tanning - short periods of intense UV exposure, such as sunbathing on a foreign holiday once a year - can increase the risk of the most serious type of skin cancer, malignant melanoma.

“Burning badly, even just once every two years, can triple the risk of malignant melanoma. You need to take extra care if you have fair skin that burns easily, lots of freckles, moles, a history of sunburn, and a family or personal history of skin cancer.”

Meanwhile, in neighbouring Somerset, skin cancer rates are 45% higher than the average across the rest of the country.

Figures released by Somerset County Council show nearly 500 people in Somerset were diagnosed with malignant melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, between 2008-2010.

Those figures mean Somerset is the eighth highest out of 151 Primary Care Trust areas.

Some simple tips for avoiding sunburn and reducing the risk of developing skin cancer.

· Always consider sun protection when you're outside.

· Spend time in the shade especially between 11am-3pm.

· Wear a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses

· Use sunscreen with at least factor 15 (the higher the better) with good UVA protection. Check the use-by date, apply generously and regularly

· Avoid sunbeds - the intensity of the UV rays can be 10 to 15 times higher than that of the midday sun.