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Skin-Cancer

Updated 01 June 2015

Remember the sunblock

You may think a tan looks healthy, but the hours in the sun may just come back to haunt you in a few years' time.

As you settle to bask in the sun this summer, don't forget the protection.

Sunscreen is vital, and everyone should use it every day, summer or winter. More of the sun's UV rays reach earth now than 50 years ago, as a result of the damage to the ozone layer.

Skin cancer is among the most common forms of cancer and although it seems that you might not be at risk, it could take up to 20 years for the sun damage you encounter today to develop into cancer.

Most of the damage to your skin caused by the sun will have been done by the time you reach the age of 18.

What SPF should I use?

When you go into the sun, your particular skin takes a certain amount of time to turn pink. This time indicates your personal Minimal Erythemal Dose (MED), and a light-skinned person's is less than 15 minutes.

An SPF, or sun(burn) protection factor, simply indicates how many times your MED you can safely be in the sun for. If your MED is 10 minutes and you're wearing SPF 20, you're protected for 200 minutes.

Select a waterproof sun screen, since it will remain in place in the water. It should preferably be hypo allergenic and odourless, since that is likely to cause skin irritation.

Skin coolers

You should not be in the sun long enough to experience pain. However, if this happens, aloe vera is one of the best products to cool the skin.

You can make your own if you need to. Use 10ml aloe vera juice and 15 drops of calendula tincture (both available from health shops). Mix the ingredients and store in a dark place in a glass container. It will keep for six months.

To prevent skin damage and be sun-sensible, keep to the following guidelines:

  • Avoid going into the sun between 10:00 and 15:00. Apply sunscreen every two hours.
  • Use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher, with ingredients that block both UVB and UVA rays. Reapply every two hours, more often when you swim, sweat or towel yourself dry. Choose a water resistant product if you perspire a lot or plan to swim.
  • Remember, there can be high ultraviolet radiation on cloudy, hazy or foggy days too. Seek the shade, but if you work outdoors, cover up. Wear a long-sleeved shirt, pants of densely-woven fabric and a broad-brimmed hat. Caps leave neck, ears and other parts of the face unprotected. Look out for UV-resistant fabric.
  • Sand, concrete, water and snow are reflective surfaces that bounce up to 85 percent of the sun's damaging rays to you, even if you're under an umbrella or a tree. Avoid "artificial sun". Ultraviolet light (tanning booths and sunlamps) causes sunburn and premature ageing, and increases the risk of skin cancer.
  • Protect your children. Keep babies under 12 months out of the sun entirely as sun protection products can irritate their skin. Protect children over 12 months with hats that cover their ears and necks. Use densely-woven clothing, put sunscreen on all exposed areas, and limit their time in the sun.

    For older children, insist on safety hats and sun block on all exposed skin as a non-negotiable routine. Explain why this is necessary and teach them to apply sunscreen regularly.

    Make sure they know that there is no such thing as a safe tan. Damage caused by sun exposure accumulates over the course of a lifetime and one severe childhood or adolescent sunburn will double the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

 

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CANSA’s purpose is to lead the fight against cancer in South Africa. Its mission is to be the preferred non-profit organisation that enables research, educates the public and provides support to all people affected by cancer. Questions are answered by CANSA’s Head of Health Professor Michael Herbst. For more information, visit cansa.org.za.

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