Top summer tips from The Skin Cancer Foundation of South Africa

With all the stresses of modern living, with all the things going on in our busy lives, putting on sunscreen is yet another thing to remember before rushing out of the door.

The Skin Cancer Foundation of South Africa (SCFSA) comprising leading Dermatologists in SA, explain why sunscreen and sun safety practices should be made a priority. The organization aims to drive public awareness and education, particularly in terms of sun protection and prevention of skin cancer, as well as UV-related disorders such as photo ageing and pigmentation.

“As Dermatologists, we are coming face-to-face with more and more patients with skin cancer. Skin cancer is growing at a disturbing rate and South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world,” says Dr Derek Odendaal, Immediate Past President of the South African Society for Dermatological Surgery, and one of the founder members of the SCFSA.

A recent snap-shot study, which analysed cases at two KwaZulu-Natal laboratories, found 17 349 cancer samples were collected between Oct 2014 – June 2015: 68.2% were basal carcinoma, 26.5% squamous cell carcinoma, and 5.2% melanoma.

“However, this life-threatening disease is ostensibly avoidable,” says Odendaal.

Summer is approaching, and UV levels will be at a peak during this season. The SCFSA advises the public on how to be sun smart.

Make sunscreen a priority

How many times, as mothers, have you forgotten to put sunscreen on your child before they head out the door for a long day of school and sport?   Do you forgo sunscreen because you don’t think you’ll be spending time outside, only to find yourself standing in queue in the blistering sun?  We’ve all made these mistakes, but now it’s time to be more sun savvy.

Five reasons everyone should wear sunscreen

  1. The ozone layer is depleting and your body needs shielding from harmful rays.
  2. Skin cancer rates are on the rise and sunscreen has been proven to decrease the development of skin cancer.
  3. It helps to prevent facial brown spots and skin discolourations.
  4. It also helps to reduce the appearance of facial red veins and blotchiness.
  5. It slows down the development of wrinkled, premature ageing skin.

Reduce skin cancer and photoageing risks

“I see more and more people with skin cancer every month, and it’s happening far too often,” says Dermatologist and member of SCFSA, Dr. M. Roscher. “The media and physicians play an important role in educating the public on the dangers of skin cancer and on sun protection practices. Differentiate between day-to-day skin/sun care versus UV protection during outdoor /sports activities. Daily protection can encompass (at the very least) moisturising day creams with SPF 15 or more and top quality anti-oxidant serums, which protect against ageing and skin cancer. UV protection during outdoor activities requires a more robust sunscreen and higher SPF of 30 or more.”

Here are the SCFSA’s top 10 tips to keep yourself safe this summer.

  1. Sun protection in youth

A child’s skin is thinner than an adult’s, and is far more sensitive, it means that they are more vulnerable to more sun damage within a shorter space of time. Most of us receive our total lifetime of sun exposure before we turn 18 years old.

“While the majority of skin cancers are detected in older patients, it is important to note that this cancer stems from sun damage earlier on in their life,” says Roscher.

Promoting a healthy attitude to sun protection in children by adopting a family sun safety programme is recommended. The sooner children learn about UV protection and why it’s important to cover up, the better.

  1. First line of defence

Wear a broad spectrum and at least an SPF 30 from a reputable brand, and don’t forget your scalp, ears, neck and back of hands. Remember sunscreen is a great first line of defence, but needs to be accompanied by other sun safe practices and minimise the amount of time spent in the intense sun, ie between 10:00 and 15:00.

  1. Wear enough and reapply

Have you ever got really sunburnt, even though you were wearing sunscreen? This is because you did not wear enough sunscreen or you forgot to reapply. It has been proven, that people don’t use the correct amount of sunscreen, therefore higher SPF’s are necessary for the prevention of skin cancer and photageing.

Remember, sunburn can manifest as skin cancer years later. Skin cancer risk doubles with more than 5 sunburns in your lifetime.

  1. How long can I stay in the sun with sunscreen

If your skin usually starts to change colour within five minutes of sun exposure, a sunscreen with an SPF of 20 protects your skin for 20 times as long, ie five times 20, which equals 100 minutes.

  1. Early detection is life saving

Regularly check your skin, and visit a Dermatologist for a screening once a year, and to get mole mapped.   Look out for any changes in moles especially new black-coloured moles, changes in size, shape, colour or feel.

The SCFSA will host the second annual National Skin Cancer Screening Day on Spring Day, 01 September 2015. On this day, the public can set up a free appointment with a participating dermatologist in their area to receive a free cancer screening and information on how to inspect themselves for early signs of skin cancer.

For participating dermatologists:

  1. Sunscreen is not just for hot sunny days at the beach

Think of exposure to UV radiation beginning as an empty glass, filling up a drop at a time. Even at a drop at a time, the glass will eventually fill up. If it overflows, you have a problem. Just add up every minute you’re exposed to the sun during a ‘regular day’ and you’ll be surprised how much time that can be!

  1. Risks for African skin types, too!

There is an increased morbidity and mortality associated with skin cancer in patients of colour compared with white patients. This may be because of lack of awareness, diagnoses at a more advanced stage and socioeconomic factors such as access to barriers. Skin cancer prevention strategies for all patients, regardless of ethnic background and socioeconomic status, can lead to timely diagnosis and treatment.

J Am Acad Dermatology 2013;70:748- 62.

  1. Reflective rays

Water, sand and concrete all provide a platform for reflective rays. Protect yourself at all times, even whilst in shade or on a wintery day.

  1. Protective gear and sunglasses

In addition to sunscreen, quality rash vests and exposed skin protection is important. The right hat reduces UV exposure by 70% for neck and head. Wear certified sunglasses with UV 400 protection. Wear long sleeves whenever possible (preferably black and more tightly woven fabrics).

  1. Never, ever use a sunbed!!! Full stop, enough said!


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