Why we should all be sun-smart this summer - no matter your skin tone
According to Cancer Research UK, more than 80% of melanoma cases could be prevented by avoiding sunburn - and those of us with darker skins aren't immune. Here's why and how to be sun-smart this summer.
Half of the world might be cuddling up for a snowy white Christmas, but here in South Africa, the festive season means three things: sunshine, blue skies and impossibly short shorts. The only problem with this merry trio is that it often results in sunburn - a condition too many of us tend to dismiss.
The fact is, South Africa (along with New Zealand and Australia) has one of the world's highest rates of melanoma skin cancer. Here's a quick explanation of why sun safety is essential for everyone - no matter your skin tone - and some tips to treat your body's largest organ with the tender-loving care it deserves.
"I don't burn easily" so lots of sun isn't a problem for me, right?
Wrong. Melanin is a pigment that occurs in people's hair, skin, and eyes that's responsible for their brown to black tone. It's true that as the amount of melanin increases, so does your natural protection from sunburn. But while a higher concentration of melanin provides some sun protection, it doesn't prevent skin cancer.
People with fair skin, light eyes and hair, like gingers and blondes (and those with a personal or family history of skin cancer, of course) are most at risk - but anyone can get skin cancer, including people with dark skins.
How exactly can sunlight increase the risk of skin cancer?
Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. If your body can't repair the damage, a skin cell can begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. This growth can eventually become cancerous.
If you're reading this and already sunburnt - don't panic. Check our handy tips below and remember that prevention is the best cure for next time.
I forgot UV protection - but one exposure won't do any harm, will it?
Unfortunately, even a single sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. Experts warn that one severe sunburn during the first 15 years of life can double the risk of skin cancer.
Ok, so sun protection is important. Here's to how to care for your skin
Your skin almost always has you covered, so the least you can do is give it some love.
Here's how to protect it from simmering in sunrays:
- Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply the sunscreen to your skin 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. It's been shown that regular sunscreen use in children can decrease their cancer risk by 80%.
- Keep babies and very young children out of direct sunlight completely.
- Wear sunglasses that block UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
- Don't be shy - get yourself a summer hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears.
- Do your body a favour and wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Some fabrics are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The higher the rating, the greater the protection from sunlight.
- Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These are just as damaging as natural sunlight.
- Where possible, avoid being out during the hottest parts of the day (between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm) and stay in the shade whenever you can. Most weather apps online or on your smartphone provide a UV index rating - check it before you head out to decide what level of protection you need. Here's a UV Index Scale based on World Health Organization recommendations to understand how to interpret it.
Find more valuable information on being sun-smart and ways to lower your risk here on the CANSA website. Plus, remember to stay hydrated the healthy way this summer by drinking lots of water. So go on, slap on some sun protection and then enjoy the great outdoors!
A bit worried about a symptom? Free doctor advice is just a click away
Do you have a niggling medical concern that you're not sure warrants a trip to the doctor, but you wish you could consult one anyway? With Discovery DrConnect, you can access trustworthy, high quality medical information.
Through the Discovery app and website, you now have access to:
- Ask a doctor: a growing library of over 5 billion doctor-created answers to medical questions - or you can get a personalised answer from a doctor, at no additional cost to you.
- Health goals: Doctor-created tips and checklists to help you meet your health goals and manage your chronic conditions.
- Your doctors: Virtual follow-up consultations with participating doctors who you have seen in the last 12 months, using voice, video or text, paid from your applicable day-to-day benefits.
If you are already a Discovery Health Medical Scheme member, you can access this functionality here or download the Discovery DrConnect app now.
Save on your sunscreen with Vitality HealthyCare
Generous applications mean that sunscreen can run out fast. Pay less when you stock up on essential sun care products with Vitality HealthyCare. This benefit offers you up to 25% cash back on preventive care and everyday personal and family care items at Clicks and Dis-Chem.
Vitality Weight Loss Rewards just helps you keep going with its encouraging feedback messages and enabling you to track your weight loss. That's very motivating. Once I got into the habit of eating properly and doing all the right things, it changed my way of life. Read Dawn Zaal's weight-loss story.
It's possible to lower the risk high cholesterol by eating well and being physically active, so it's tempting to think that only people who eat badly and don't exercise can have this condition. But is that true?