Many people don’t realise that burning red in the sun is the precursor to skin cancer. Just one bad burn can lead to years of skin issues, like skin cancer, particularly in later life.
Skin cancer stats
According to dermatologist, Dr Marc Roscher, there is a shortage of dermatologists in SA and majority of the population will never be screened for skin cancer.
This is extremely concerning, considering that SA has a very high incidence of skin cancer and one of the highest incidences of melanoma worldwide, as far as Caucasians are concerned. Therefore, awareness is key and early detection is paramount in reducing skin cancer.
SA also has one of the highest monitored ultra violet (UV) levels in the world. At least 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers, and approximately 1 500 are diagnosed with melanoma.
Every ethnic group at risk
It’s important to note that everyone, regardless of racial or ethnic group, is at risk of getting skin cancer. Although people with darker skins are less susceptible, due to their skin containing more natural melanin that protects against sun damage, everyone is at risk from the harsh African sun.
What is sunburn?
Sunburn, essentially, is an inflammation of the skin that has been caused by over exposure to the harmful rays of the sun. So, when temperatures soar, protection is needed against heat rash, heat stroke and sunburn.
It’s essential that skin is regularly checked for changes, unusual marks or moles. An annual medical examination should include a skin check and also check the top of the head, back and back of the legs.
CANSA offers skin examinations and has mole-mapping dermoscope devices, called the FotoFinder, used to examine moles. Every client with suspicious skin damage is referred for an intensive skin evaluation. Examinations are available at some CANSA Care Centres (see www.cansa.org.za for details).
Advice from SA Skin Cancer Foundation
- Use sunscreen bearing the CANSA Seal of Recognition, such as Island Tribe. Other sunscreens can be found on CANSA’s website. If possible, apply sunscreen 30 minutes before going out into the sun, since it takes that long to be absorbed into the skin. And, always wear protective clothing, hats and shirts before going out into the sun.
- The sun protection factor (SPF) in a sunscreen provides an indication of the amount of protection being offered. For example, a tested SPF of 23 implies that the user can remain in the sun twenty-three times longer than without protection, before burning.
- Before applying sunscreen, check the expiry date on the bottle and replace it if necessary. Remember to shake the bottle before applying, and reapply lotion after sunbathing, towel drying, or after sweating heavily.
- In the event of over exposure to the sun, apply cool tap water compressed for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times per day, until the redness subsides. This can provide immense relief since the evaporating water will moisten and cool the skin.
- A sunburn relief spray, or moisturising cream, will further ease discomfort. Doctors strongly caution against using petroleum jelly on a burn as it will seal out the air needed to ensure healing.
- In the case of severe sunburn, blistering, pain, nausea or chills, a doctor should be called immediately. Steroid ointments or creams may be prescribed. Large blisters might have to be drained and dressed.
Did you know?
- Most sunburns don’t reach their peak colour until six to twenty-four hours after sun exposure.
- Thirty minutes in the sun without protection is too long.
- As you move inland, above sea level, the sun’s rays become more intense.
- The sun is at its strongest between 11:00 and 15:00.
- Ultraviolet light can penetrate light cloud cover. So, still use sunscreen when it is slightly overcast. Particularly, if you’re on the beach.
- UVA rays pass through glass. So, a person sitting near a window (unless tinted for sun screening) is also susceptible to the damaging rays of the sun.