Why we should all be sun-smart this summer – no matter your skin tone

According to Cancer Research UK, more than 80% of melanoma cases could be prevented by avoiding sunburn - and those of us with darker skins aren’t immune. Here’s why and how to be sun-smart this summer.

The fact is, South Africa (along with New Zealand and Australia) has one of the world’s highest rates of melanoma skin cancer. Here’s a quick explanation of why sun safety is essential for everyone - no matter your skin tone - and some tips to treat your body’s largest organ with the tender-loving care it deserves.

"I don’t burn easily" so lots of sun isn’t a problem for me, right?

Wrong. Melanin is a pigment that occurs in people’s hair, skin, and eyes that’s responsible for their brown to black tone. It’s true that as the amount of melanin increases, so does your natural protection from sunburn. But while a higher concentration of melanin provides some sun protection, it doesn't prevent skin cancer.

People with fair skin, light eyes and hair, like gingers and blondes (and those with a personal or family history of skin cancer, of course) are most at risk – but anyone can get skin cancer, including people with dark skins.

How exactly can sunlight increase the risk of skin cancer?

Sunburn is a clear sign that the DNA in your skin cells has been damaged by too much ultraviolet (UV) radiation. If your body can’t repair the damage, a skin cell can begin to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way. This growth can eventually become cancerous.

If you’re reading this and already sunburnt – don’t panic. Check our handy tips below and remember that prevention is the best cure for next time.

I forgot UV protection - but one exposure won’t do any harm, will it?

Unfortunately, even a single sunburn increases your risk of developing melanoma. Experts warn that one severe sunburn during the first 15 years of life can double the risk of skin cancer.

Ok, so sun protection is important. Here’s to how to care for your skin

Your skin almost always has you covered, so the least you can do is give it some love.

Here’s how to protect it from simmering in sunrays:

  • Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 30. Apply the sunscreen to your skin 30 minutes before going outside, and reapply every two hours or after swimming or sweating. It’s been shown that regular sunscreen use in children can decrease their cancer risk by 80%.
  • Keep babies and very young children out of direct sunlight completely.
  • Wear sunglasses that block UV radiation to protect the skin around your eyes.
  • Don’t be shy – get yourself a summer hat with a wide brim all around that shades your face, neck, and ears.
  • Do your body a favour and wear tightly woven, loose-fitting clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible. Some fabrics are rated with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF). The higher the rating, the greater the protection from sunlight.
  • Avoid tanning beds and sunlamps. These are just as damaging as natural sunlight.
  • Where possible, avoid being out during the hottest parts of the day (between 10:00 am and 4:00 pm) and stay in the shade whenever you can. Most weather apps online or on your smartphone provide a UV index rating – check it before you head out to decide what level of protection you need. Here’s a UV Index Scale based on World Health Organization recommendations to understand how to interpret it.

Find more valuable information on being sun-smart and ways to lower your risk here on the CANSA website. Plus, remember to stay hydrated the healthy way this summer by drinking lots of water. So go on, slap on some sun protection and then enjoy the great outdoors!

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