Talking about sun safety is never a fun subject, but it’s a fact of life that no South African can really avoid. We’ve stepped into those toasty summer months and so it’s worth revisiting some details about looking after yourself in the heat.
Most skin cancers are caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays. Much of this exposure comes from the sun, but some can come from man-made sources, such as indoor tanning beds and sun lamps. People who get a lot of exposure to UV rays are at greater risk for skin cancer. The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) says that Mzansi now has the second-highest incidence of skin cancer after Australia.
The main types of UV rays that can affect your skin include UVA rays and UVB rays. UVB rays have more energy and are a more potent cause of at least some skin cancers, but both UVA and UVB rays can damage skin and cause skin cancer, so the sad fact is that there are no safe UV rays.
Most people think about sun protection only when they spend a day at the park, pool, lake, or beach. But sun exposure adds up day after day, and it happens every time you are in the sun. Even though sunlight is the main source of UV rays, you don’t have to avoid the sun completely but getting too much sun can be harmful. There are some simple steps you can take to limit your exposure to UV rays.
Simply staying in the shade is one of the best ways to limit your UV exposure. If you are going to be in the sun then:
- Slip on a shirt.
- Slop on some sunscreen.
- Slap on a hat.
- Put on sunglasses to protect your eyes and skin around them.
How much sunscreen do you need to apply? According to CANSA, you should use at least seven teaspoons of sunscreen. Make sure you’re applying one teaspoon per arm. One for each leg. One for your front. Another for your back. And one for your face and neck. If you go swimming; towel down or find yourself sweating a lot, you need to reapply your sunscreen more regularly. Choose a brand that gives protection against UVA and UVB rays (look for the CANSA Seal of Recognition logo). Also check that it has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 30 to 50. The higher the number, the greater the protection.
You need to be especially careful in the sun if you:
- Have had skin cancer before
- Have a family history of skin cancer, especially melanoma
- Have many moles, irregular moles, or large moles
- Have freckles and burn before tanning
- Have fair skin, blue or green eyes, or blond, red, or light brown hair
- Spend a lot of time outdoors
- Have an autoimmune disease
- Have certain inherited conditions that increase your risk of skin cancer
- Have a medical condition that weakens your immune system, such as HIV
- Have had an organ transplant
- Take medicines that lower or suppress your immune system
- Take medicines that make your skin more sensitive to sunlight
Before you go on holiday or spend more time in the glorious summer sun, it is important to visit your doctor if you have any skin or health concerns, who can then refer you to a dermatologist or skin cancer specialist if necessary.
@Health Medical Centre and its tenants do not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage suffered by the reader as a result of the information provided. For any health concerns or further information, it is always important to seek advice from your @Health Medical Centre healthcare professional.