Updated 14 December 2016

Don't pack away the sunscreen

Just because your holiday is over, doesn't mean your sunscreen should be packed away with the suitcases. Prevent skin cancer by wearing sunscreen all year round.

Just because your holiday is over, doesn’t mean your sunscreen should be packed away with the suitcases. February is not only known as the month of love, but the hottest month of the year in South Africa, with temperatures soaring well above the 30 degree mark in certain provinces.

Expert skin care therapist and co- owner of Elements Spa at Dock House, Yvonne Heathcote, says people have a misconception that sunscreen should only be used when swimming and on holiday. "It should be applied every day."

Says Heathcote: “South Africans only remember to apply a sunscreen when they spend time at the beach, but they forget that they are exposed to the sun’s harmful UV rays on a daily basis. When I was younger, I used to spend time in the direct sunlight without protection, something I regret today. This behaviour causes premature ageing and could ultimately lead to skin cancer.

“As a skin care therapist I have heard all the excuses in the book as to why some people think they are exempt from having to wear sunscreen. Some people say they are in the office all day and don’t need to wear sunscreen, but they do not realise that you are still exposed to radiation from florescent lighting and computer screens. I spent many years in my twenties laying on sun beds and judging my holiday by the darkness of my tan. Years later I am now faced with having to address premature ageing on my chest.”

So what should we know about sunscreen and how should we be using it?

Heathcote offers some advice in response to the most frequently asked questions from her clients:

What is photo ageing?

This is a term which refers to the effect that sun exposure has on our skin. It is also thought to be responsible for the majority of age-associated changes in the skins appearance, mottled pigmentation, surface roughness, lines and wrinkles. The effects of exposure to the sun are not immediate and it is quite often that we only start to see the accumulated effects in our 30’s and 40’s.

What is the minimum recommended SPF that I should use daily?

You are exposed to UV rays while you commute to and from work and even while doing your daily chores. In South Africa it is recommended that we should be using a minimum of SPF (Sun protection factor) of 30.  Research has shown that although intense bursts of sun are bad, most of the damage that shows on our skin is accumulated in short bursts like sitting outside for lunch, sitting in traffic to and from work or taking your dog for a walk.

Should I be wearing sunscreen if my moisturiser has a built in sunscreen?

If you are office bound, you could get away with a built-in SPF of 15 as long as you apply another application. “A possible additional step to your regime is using an SPF oil-free spritz over your make-up when you leave the office or when you will be sitting in traffic.”

How much sunscreen should I be using?

If your entire body is exposed to the sun, a teaspoon should be used on your face and six teaspoons for the rest of your body. Please bear in mind that this is the minimum amount.

How often do I need to apply sun screen?

You should be applying sunscreen 30 minutes before you go out, as this is how long it takes to absorb into your skin. Re-apply after swimming or toweling even if your sunscreen says it is water-resistant or waterproof.

Which areas of the body are most prone to skin cancer?

People would often think that it would be the entire body, but the back of the knees, nose, the tips of your ears, tops of you feet, chest and the back of your neck and shoulders are the most prone to skin cancer.

How often should I get checked for skin cancer?                                                                                

The Cancer Association of South Africa recommends that you see a dermatologist once year for a check- up. Most doctors however, urge that you regularly check yourself in a mirror and ask your partner to look for any signs of anything that has changed colour or does not heal.

Eighty percent of melanomas are diagnosed by patients themselves and not by their doctors. Your skincare therapist is also one of your first lines of defence, as they are able to point out blemishes that have changed colour or become rougher to the touch while doing a facial or body treatment.

(Press release: Elements Spa at Dock House)

 (Health24, February 2011)

Read more:

How the sun's radiation damages you
I survived skin cancer


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