Don’t turn the page, we’re talking to you. No one is immune – anyone can get skin cancer, regardless of your age, gender or race. And according to CANSA, South Africa has one of the highest monitored ultraviolet (UV) levels in the world, resulting in one of the highest skin cancer rates globally. That’s why perfecting your sun protection strategy is so essential.
You always need sunscreen. A tan only partially protects against UV radiation.
Use sunscreen with the highest SPF you can afford. Your face and neck should always be protected with SPF 50. Darker skin does not need as high an SPF as very fair skin. Regardless of the SPF, sunscreen needs to be reapplied regularly – generally every two hours or after swimming. Always follow the directions on the bottle. But choosing your sunscreen is not just about the SPF. Ensure you get sunscreen that has UVA as well as UVB protection – this must be stated on the bottle. Also known as broad-spectrum protection, this is important because overexposure to either UVA rays or UVB rays can lead to skin cancer. What’s more, UVB rays also cause sunburn, while UVA rays can diminish your youthful appearance, causing wrinkles and age spots.
An allergy to sunscreen chemicals is not uncommon. However, there are chemical-free sunscreens that contain micronised zinc and titanium dioxide that are safe to use for allergic skin.
Yes, as long as the clothing has fibres that are thick enough to prevent UV radiation. A general rule of thumb is that if you hold the piece of clothing up to the sun, and you cannot see through it, it will protect you sufficiently.
Sunburn must be treated as soon as possible to lower the chances of long-term damage. Take a cool bath or shower to reduce the heat. Recommended doses of aspirin or ibuprofen can help reduce swelling, redness and discomfort. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, sunburn draws fluid to your skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body, so drinking lots of water is important to prevent dehydration. Ultimately, prevention is better than cure. If you do get burnt, apply a topical cortisone cream or a topical, non-serial inflammatory gel. Most importantly, stay out of the sun. Blistering sunburn should be seen to by a doctor. If you have a fever, chills or headaches, it’s best to see a doctor immediately.
You could be missing parts of your body that need more protection than others. Here’s how to make sure you’re reaching the right places and using enough sunscreen. When applying sunscreen, focus on quantity: at least 1 gram/cm2. Try to cover as much of your body as possible – all the parts exposed to the sun, including ears, back of ears, the neck and the top and bottom of your feet, need to be covered. There’s one spot many people miss: the scalp. Men who shave their hair are sitting ducks for sunburn and skin cancer. A receding hairline or bald spot will need sunscreen, but even those with a full head of hair should leave their hats on. There is also a wide range of hair mists, oils and protective sprays that contain SPF. One of the most dangerous areas to get melanoma – the most dangerous kind of skin cancer – is the scalp, as it often goes undetected.
▶ EYELIDS: When you blink, your eyelids catch harmful rays. As thin tissue, your eyelids are especially vulnerable. In fact, around 5 to 10% of skin cancers are found around the eyes. And don’t forget the skin between your inner eye and nose. “Non-melanoma skin cancers on and around the eyelids are common,” reports the Skin Cancer Foundation. If you’re worried about getting cream in your eyes, wear a pair of UV blocking wraparound sunglasses.
▶ LIPS: Don’t forget to lather those lips – they’re also susceptible to skin cancer. Look for lip balms or lipstick with a broad spectrum SPF of 30 or higher.
▶ ARMPITS: If you’re spreading out or lifting up your book, your armpits are especially vulnerable to sunburn as they’re not used to direct sun exposure.
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