Save your skin this summer

Posted on 19 December 2014

These valuable tips, websites and apps will help you enjoy South Africa’s beautiful sunny days responsibly.

It’s a sobering thought: every year 100 000 South Africans are diagnosed with cancer. According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), almost 90% of cancers are caused by lifestyle and environmental factors including smoking, diet and exercise – all things within our control.

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers in South Africa and can be caused by skin cell damage as a result of too much exposure to the sun’s invisible ultraviolet (UV) rays. Spending hours in the sun or on a sunbed is never good, but this doesn’t mean you must avoid the sun altogether. Small amounts of UV are essential for the production of vitamin D, which your body needs to absorb calcium and promote bone growth.

In December, January and February the sun is at its strongest in South Africa. The general rule is to avoid direct sunlight between 10h00 and 15h00, wear protective clothing such as wide-brimmed hats and light long-sleeved shirts, use CANSA-approved sunblock, wear quality sunglasses with a UV400 rating when out and keep an eye on any moles on your body. If you notice anything strange, make an appointment to see a dermatologist as soon as possible.

Get a CANSA UV-Smart Armband
CANSA sells an unobtrusive plastic armband that becomes darker as UV rays get stronger. As the colour changes, there are certain recommendations you should follow to avoid getting sunburnt. The bands are available for R30. Call 0800 22 66 22 for more information.

Monitor the UV index
Many online weather services and apps indicate the UV index as part of the daily weather report, for example AccuWeather and Yahoo Weather. The UV index ranges from 0 to 11+; 0 means there’s very little risk of sunburn, while anything over 11 represents an extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. During the summer months in South Africa the UV index is generally in the high to extreme range, so it’s best to take precautions at all times: cover up, wear sunglasses, use sunblock with SPF 30 or higher and drink lots of water to avoid dehydration.

Keep track of your moles
First things first: a smartphone app should never replace a visit to a dermatologist or medical professional. That said, apps like Doctor Mole (free for Android, Apple and Windows Phones) can be useful for taking photos of and keeping track of your own moles.

CANSA says to look out for the ABCDE of skin cancer warning signs. If you notice any of the below, book an appointment with your dermatologist.
A-symmetry: a mole or mark with one half unlike the other – common moles are round and symmetrical.
B-order irregularities: scalloped or poorly defined edges – common moles have smooth and even borders.
C-olour variations and inconsistency: tan, brown, black, red, white and blue – common moles are usually a single shade of brown or black.
D-iameter: moles larger than 6 mm.
E-volving: changes in shape, colour or border of a mole.

The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Dermatology

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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