According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decade, and WHO estimates that a 10 % decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300 000 non-melanoma and 4 500 melanoma skin cancer cases globally.
Scary indeed, but let’s start by dispelling a few of the myths about sun exposure that may be behind the fact that we are one of the highest risk countries in the world:
1. The sun is only dangerous in summer or on a hot day. Not so, UV rays can damage your skin at any time of the year, even when it is overcast.
2. Sunscreen will protect me completely from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. Sun screens only offer limited protection against the harmful rays of the sun and need to be reapplied regularly.
3. One or two cases of sunburn won’t result in skin cancer. Sunburn doesn’t have to be raw, peeling or blistering. If your skin has gone pink or red in the sun, it’s sunburnt. Getting sunburn, just once every 2 years, can triple your risk of melanoma skin cancer.
4. People with darker skins are not at risk for getting skin cancer. Regardless of your skin tone you are at risk.
5. Sunbeds are a safer alternative for getting a tan. Tanning beds are extremely dangerous and the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) has called for them to be banned in South Africa.
So what can you do to lower your skin cancer risk?
You can’t undo the damage your skin has experienced thus far, but you can make sure you take better care in the future. Follow these tips offered by CANSA and be more SunSmart:
Do a monthly “Spot the Spot” check up
Always get medical advice as soon as possible when concerned about a particular spot on your skin. Check your skin carefully every month and ask a family member or friend to examine your back and the top of your head. If you notice any spots that are asymmetrical, have border irregularities, change in colour, are bigger than 6mm or get bigger or more prominent, see a doctor or dermatologist immediately.
Stay out of the sun between 10am and 3pm
Stay under the shade of trees or an umbrella as much as possible.
Stay away from sunbeds and sun lamps
Sunbeds have been classified as carcinogenic (causing cancer) to humans. Don’t let the beauty industry or misguided celebs fool you into thinking a tanned look is worth getting cancer!
Use an effective sunscreen
Be sure to use a sunscreen with an SPF of between 20 and 50 (30 and 50 for fair to very fair skin). Products usually expire two years after manufacture so don’t use a product that has been opened and used after a year has passed.
Wear Protective Clothing
Wear sunglasses with a UV protection rating of UV400 as well as protective clothing and swimsuits. Opt for thickly-woven fabric hats with wide brims – avoid caps where the neck and ears are exposed.
Take special care with kids
Youngsters should take special precaution when spending time in the sun. Two blistering burns before the age of 18, can dramatically increase the risk of getting skin cancer later in life.