22 September 2010

Facts about the sun and your skin

Did you know that the sun is responsible for 80% of premature skin ageing? Brush up on your facts here.

  • Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in South Africa.
  • If you are of Caucasian descent and you grew up in South Africa and you get old enough, your chances of getting non-melanoma skin cancer (ranging from early squamous carcinomas to basal-cell carcinomas) is close to 100%.
  • One in five Americans develops skin cancer.
  • By the age of 18, most people have received 80% of their lifetime sun exposure.
  • A single bad case of sunburn during childhood can double the risk of skin cancer later in life.
  • Regular application of sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 during the first 18 years of life can significantly lower the risk of some types of skin cancer by more than 75%.
  • Farmers are particularly at risk, as they have long periods of exposure to intense sunlight. They're at risk of developing basal cell and squamous cell cancer.
  • The sun is responsible for 80% of premature skin ageing, which makes sun protection one of the best defences against wrinkles.
  • It's advisable to use sunscreen every day, because incidental exposure to the sun – while driving your car or mowing the lawn – accounts for 80% of a lifetime’s exposure. Remember to use sunscreen on cloudy days too, as 80% of sunshine can penetrate smog, mist, light cloud and fog.
  • Dermatologists speculate that if parents stop putting sunscreen on their children, the number of new skin cancer cases could jump by tens of millions over the next two decades.
  • Many sports activities take place on or near water, snow, sand or concrete, which increase the exposure to the sun by reflecting up to 90% of UV rays.
  • Women of all ages are more likely than their male counterparts to use products with an SPF of 15 or greater and to use any suncare product. This is probably one reason why sunburn frequency is higher for men than women. The reverse is true for people aged 40 and over. For adults over age 40, men are more likely to develop melanoma than women. For adults under the age of 40, the reverse is true. Women are more likely to develop melanoma.
  • Sun beds and tanning lamps emit UVA rays and are unsafe even though advertisements may claim the contrary.
  • Sunscreen is one of the most important ways to protect children from sun damage later in life.
  • Exposure to the sun at a higher altitude may mean higher exposure to UV rays. The cleaner and thinner air increases solar intensity and its effects on your skin;
  • Always be sure to add sunblock to your ears, nose, neck and hands. These areas are easily overlooked but prone to bad burns.
  • Skin reactions can happen when sunlight interacts with certain chemicals or medications. Certain antibiotics, colognes and perfumes can cause irritation or cause your skin to become sensitive to the sun. A sunscreen can help protect your skin and prevent such reactions. Check with your doctor.
  • A single dose of sunburn just once can cause irreparable skin damage. On average, children get three times more sun exposure than adults.
  • The SPF (sun protection factor) number tells you how many times longer you can stay in the sun before burning than if you hadn't used any sunscreen at all. SPF 30 and 45 products block more than 96% of the sun’s UV rays.
  • Apply sunscreen even when you're under a beach umbrella. The rays can reflect off the sand and reach you. That goes for concrete, snow, water and other reflective surfaces, too.
  • Remember to read and follow label directions on sunscreen.

- (Health24, December 2001/Last updated: September 2010) 


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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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