Updated 11 June 2014

Myths - your skin and the sun

When it comes to suntanning, there are a lot of myths doing the rounds. Health24 separates fact from fiction.

Your skin and the sun have a mixed relationship. A little bit of sun is exceptionally good for you, while too much can have the opposite effect. We separate the fact from the fiction.

I feel so healthy and alive after tanning; the sun cannot be bad for me.
Truth: Aong with Texas and Australia, sunny South Africa has the world’s highest incidence of skin cancer. Nearly 10 000 new cases are diagnosed in South Africa annually.

Myth: Only people with fair hair and blue eyes are at risk.
Truth: The findings of new research on the effect of UV-rays of the sun are cause for real concern for both light and darker skinned South Africans. Although people with light or red hair and blue eyes are at higher risk, the incidence of skin cancer is increasing among people with black and brown skins. Darker-skinned West Coast fishermen develop skin cancer much earlier in life than their lighter-skinned counterparts.

Myth:I have been sun safe the past decade, so I have no risk of developing skin cancer.
Truth: It now appears that sun damage to the skin is cumulative, and often damage caused during the first 15 years of life only becomes apparent years later.

Myth: I already have a nice tan and freckles, so my skin is used to the sun and won’t damage as easily.
Truth: Benign freckles and sunspots may need only one extra exposure to the sun to become malignant.

Myth: The sun is good for my baby’s or toddler’s skin.
Truth: Children can suffer skin damage within seven minutes of sun exposure during the period between 11 am and 4 pm.

Myth: Sunbeds and tanning lamps are safe.
Truth: They emit UV-A and are unsafe. UV-A rays can penetrate into the deeper layers of the skin, causing damage even before your skin turns red. UV-A rays make skin tough, wrinkled and increase the risk of skin cancer.

Myth: A skin cancer lesion will bleed, be red in appearance and painful. I will be aware of it from the moment the cancer starts.
Truth: Most cancer lesions are not associated with bleeding, scab formation or pain. The changes in a lesion can be very subtle. If one does not watch out for changes, it may go unnoticed for weeks and months, decreasing your chances of survival. Contact your dermatologist if a lesion:

Changes colour: from light to dark or white to pale pink
Changes shape and size
Develops irregular, swollen ridges
Peels, heals and peels again forms an ulcer in the centre and doesn’t heal
Suddenly reappears.

Myth: There is no need to rush to my doctor when I detect a suspicious lesion.
Truth: Early detection and treatment is vital and can save your life.

There are three three types of skin cancer:
1. Basal cell carcinoma
This is the most prevalent type of skin cancer.
It does not usually spread to other organs or parts of the body.
The chance of recovery after an early diagnosis is 95 percent.

2. Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinoma is easy to cure, provided it is diagnosed at an early stage.
If not diagnosed early, it tends to spread to the lymphatic system and other tissue cells, requiring the removal of lymph glands.

3. Melanoma
Five to 10 percent of all skin cancers are melanoma.
It is very aggressive, and can spread to other tissue cells at an early stage.
The chances of recovery depend on how deeply the lesion has penetrated the skin. In cases where the penetration is less than 0,75 mm, the chance of recovery is excellent. With a lesion deeper than 4 mm, the chance of surviving ten years or longer is less than 15 percent.

(Reviewed by Prof H.F. Jordaan, MBChB, MMed (Derm) Updated September 2007).

Read more:
Visit Health24’s Cancer Centre


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