Fun in the sun may leave you with much more than a tan

With the summer season in full swing in South Africa, many people often forget to play it safe when enjoying a day out in the sun. With the country’s climate reaching average highs of 28 C, it’s important for people to be sun-smart even if they are indoors most of the time.

Regardless of age, gender and age – everyone needs protection from both the sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) and B (UVB) rays. Exposure to the harmful rays of the sun can cause serious damage to your skin and overall health.

“Your skin is the largest organ in your body, and like your other organs, it needs to be well-taken care of. It has many important functions that affect your overall health. People may be aware of the dangers of too much sun exposure to their skin, but may not be as aware of the seriousness of the effects”, says Dr Nicola Rains, a general practitioner at NHC Health Centres (note to editors: please refer to company as indicated).

Think of your skin as a “suit of armour”, if it’s not well-functioning then the rest of your body is in danger. It functions as a defensive element against foreign substances entering the body as well as protecting the body from trauma.

Dr Rains: “When you’re sitting in the direct sun for hours without protection, sunburn is not the only thing you need to worry about. The effects of sunburn can lead to more serious conditions such as skin cancer”.

With about 20 000 reported cases and 700 deaths every year, Skin Cancer is South Africa’s most common form of cancer. This is according to the Skin Care Foundation of South Africa (SCFSA). South Africa is only second to Australia with the highest incidents in the world.

There are different forms of skin cancer, and the Cancer Association of South Africa names Malignant Melanoma as being the most dangerous. Melanoma is when unrepaired DNA damage to skin triggers mutation that causes the skin cells to multiply rapidly and form malignant tumours.

Melanomas often resemble moles; some develop from moles. The majority of melanomas are black or brown, but they can also be skin-coloured, pink, red, purple, blue or white. Most often melanoma is caused by ultraviolet radiation from sunshine or tanning beds.

“It is important to educate yourself on ways to take better care of your skin. Many cases of skin cancer can be prevented by following some precautions. Making simple changes to your day out at the beach may just save your life”, says Dr Rains.

· Avoid the sun when its rays are the strongest, between 10am and 3pm. Even in winter or when it is cloudy, UV radiation is all year around.

· Make sure to use good quality sunscreen, preferably one with a broad-spectrum and high SPF (the higher the SPF the stronger the protection).

· Apply the sunscreen every two hours, spreading it generously on all part of the skin that is exposed.

· Sunscreen does not provide complete protection from the sun’s UV rays, wear clothing that covers your body well

· Even if its overcast, put on your sunscreen. UV light can still penetrate through clouds.

· Tanning beds emit UV radiation, which increases the risk of skin cancer. Avoid them.

· Just spending 30 minutes in the sun without protection is enough to cause damage to your skin

· If you do get sun-burnt, compress cool tap water for 10 to 15 minutes until the redness subsides.

· It is recommended that you have a sunburn relief spray or moisturising cream in your medicine cabinet, especially if you do a lot of outdoor activities. Do not use petroleum jelly on a burn.

· Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe sunburn, blistering, pain, nausea or chills

· Know your skin. You must know every mole, bump, spot on your body, so when there are any changes they can be noticed easily. If you notice anything unusual, seek medical attention as soon as you can.

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