Is your skin covered?

Posted on 11 April 2019

You may think you’ve got things covered – but skin protection is about more than just slapping on a bit of sunscreen. 

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. Dr Ilsa Orrey, a dermatologist at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, addresses your sun protection FAQs.

 

DO I NEED SUNSCREEN IF I HAVE A TAN?

“You always need sunscreen,” says Dr Orrey. “A tan only partially protects against UV radiation.”

WHAT TYPE OF SUNSCREEN SHOULD I USE?

“Use sunscreen with the highest SPF you can afford,” says Dr Orrey. “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,” adds Dr Orrey. 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.

CAN I BE ALLERGIC TO SUNSCREEN?

“An allergy to sunscreen chemicals is not uncommon,” says Dr Orrey. “However, there are chemical-free sunscreens that contain micronised zinc and titanium dioxide that are safe to use for allergic skin.”

 

DOES SUN-PROTECTIVE CLOTHING REALLY WORK?

“Yes, as long as the clothing has fibres that are thick enough to prevent UV radiation,” says Dr Orrey. “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.”

 

REGARDLESS OF THE SPF, SUNSCREEN NEEDS TO BE REAPPLIED REGULARLY – USUALLY EVERY TWO HOURS, OR AFTER SWIMMING.

 

HOW DO I TREAT SUNBURN?

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,” says Dr Orrey. “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.

 

ACCORDING TO THE AMERICAN ACADEMY OF DERMATOLOGY, SUNBURN DRAWS FLUID TO THE SKIN SURFACE AND AWAY FROM THE REST OF THE BODY SO DRINKING LOTS OF WATER IS IMPORTANT TO PREVENT DEHYDRATION.

 

ARE YOU APPLYING SUNSCREEN ALL WRONG?

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,” says Dr Orrey. “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,” warns Dr Orrey. 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.

 

LESSER-LATHERED AREAS THAT NEED PROTECTION:

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.

 

ADDITIONAL REFERENCES

www.aad.org/media/stats/prevention-and-care/sunscreen-faqs

www.cansa.org.za/be-sunsmart

 

WORDS: GILLIAN KLAWANSKY

Published in Cancer

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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