A few hours in the sun makes you feel positive, healthy ans attractive but watch out for long-term damage!
What is skin cancer?
Skin cancer is the result of skin cell damage and begins in the lower part of the epidermis (the top layer of your skin). At least 80% of sun-induced skin damage occurs before 18 and only manifests later in life. From a young age, children must be educated about sun protection – by example and by making it part of everyday life (like brushing your teeth).
Babies should be kept out of the sun until the age of six months. The number of cases that are diagnosed with skin cancer locally increases annually, and South Africa has the second-highest death rate from skin cancer, after Australia.
READ MORE: HOW TO CHOOSE THE CORRECT SUNSCREEN
Malignant melanoma (often referred to as just melanoma) is the skin cancer that originates in the melanocytes (the pigment-producing cells of the skin). It’s the most dangerous form of skin cancer. Melanoma are mainly caused by occasional UV exposure (often leading to sunburn), especially in those who are genetically predisposed to the disease.
‘It spreads through the lymph tissue or bloodstream quickly, and involves many other organs,’ explains Dr Noori Moti-Joosub, dermatologist at Laserderm.
It can be deadly, but if detected early it can be cured by simply cutting out the malignant lesions. Often this is done under local anaesthetic in the doctor’s rooms or as an outpatient procedure under local anaesthetic. The stitches stay for a week or two and minimal scars remain.
Effective protection against skin cancer involves sun protection as well as home examinations of your skin, says Jeremy Yatt, CEO of Fedhealth. He urges people to examine themselves once a month from head to toe looking for any suspicious lesions. ‘Even if you examine your skin regularly, living with sun protection is essential in the prevention of skin cancer. About 90% of non-melanoma skin cancers and 65% of melanoma is due to UV radiation exposure from the sun,’ says Yatt.
While everyone is at risk for melanoma, the amount of exposure to the sun, the number of moles on the skin, your skin type, and family history also play an important role. Redheads or blondes with blue or green eyes are at higher risk of developing skin cancer and therefore an SPF50 is recommended. Brunettes with brown eyes should still be cautious and use at least an SPF30. For those with black hair, SPF20 is sufficient.
Protect your skin
- Choose protective clothing and beauty products with UV protection.
- Invest in a pair of sunglasses with UV protection of 400 if possible.
- Wear a hat with a broad brim.
- Hands are often forgotten, says Dr Moti-Joosub (she wears leather gloves winter and summer because sun damage can be extreme).
- Use a lip balm with an SPF20.
- Avoid the sun between 10am and 3pm.
- Always look for a shady spot under a roof or under an umbrella.
But what about vitamin D?
According to Dr Shavani Pillay, SOLAL product specialist and homeopath, it’s estimated that 80% of South Africans have a vitamin D3 deficiency. This is rather ironic, given the wonderful climate we have in South Africa. Vitamin D3 is the only vitamin in the body that can be manufactured by sunlight (UVB), but the fear of skin cancer, the use of sunscreens, and our indoor lifestyle have exacerbated the vitamin D3 deficiency.
‘One of the most important roles of vitamin D is to promote calcium absorption in the gut and maintain adequate serum calcium, which is essential for healthy bone and teeth development,’ explains Dr Pillay.
‘Vitamin D has other roles in the body – it helps with cell/tissue growth, supports the health of the immune system, brain, cardiovascular and nervous system, and regulates insulin levels and aid diabetes management.’
What you need: Small doses of sun are sufficient for the feel-good factor – 10 minutes, two to three times per week for Caucasian skin, and 25 minutes two to three times a week for darker skin is sufficient. Vitamin D is also found
in dietary sources like fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil.
Top 5 sun myths:
The Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) warns about the following myths:
- The sun is only dangerous on a hot day or on a summer’s day.
- Sunscreen will completely protect you from the sun’s harmful rays.
- One or two cases of sunburn will not result in skin cancer.
- People with dark (or so-called strong) skin are not at risk of getting skin cancer.
- Sunbeds are safer than lying in the sun.
- Choose a sunscreen that offers adequate UVA and UVB protection. Always use an SPF30 (minimum) and reapply regularly. Make sure to apply 15 to 30 minutes before leaving home.
- Unless you have a waterproof sunscreen, you should apply sunscreen again after swimming or sweating.
- Check the expiry date on your sunscreen, and throw it out if it’s been open for a year or longer.
- The general rule is to use a teaspoon (5ml) of sunscreen for your face and two tablespoons (30ml) for the rest of your body.
- To work out how long your SPF will protect you from the sun, use the time that it takes to burn times the SPF factor. The result is the amount of time you can spend in the sun. For example, if it takes your unprotected skin three minutes to get red, an SPF of 30 will delay the red discoloration by 30 times, or an average of 1.5 hours.