We’ve all heard about sun exposure and skin cancer and yet many people are still taking risks and there is some confusion in certain areas. Let’s review some of the key facts:

  • Repeated sun exposure increases the risk of skin cancer. The more sun-exposure, the higher the risk.
  • Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa and in Australia.
  • Sunburn episodes (peeling, blistering, redness, pain) add to the risk.
  • Sun exposure during childhood is especially dangerous (mainly because the damage has more time/years to lead to cancer).

So what should we do:

  • Stay in the shade whenever possible.
  • Wear cover-up clothing and hats.
  • Use sunscreen with an SPF of at least 15 (apply 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply regularly).

But you knew that didn’t you? Here are some things you may have missed:

  • Darker skins have less risk of developing skin cancer, but not no-risk. Everyone can get skin cancer. Did you now that Bob Marley died of skin cancer at age 36?!
  • Tanning salons use UV-light and this can cause skin cancer. Avoid!
  • Sun exposure causes most of what we see as “skin ageing” (wrinkles, sagging, dryness, etc.). Stay in the shade and stay younger-looking.

What about the benefits of sun exposure? Ah, well, yes. Sun exposure prompts the skin to produce vitamin D, which helps bone development, mood and energy. In northern climates there may be some merit in advising people to deliberately seek non-burning moderate sun exposure for these reasons, but in South Africa it is likely that we all get enough (20 minutes a week is enough) sun exposure anyway.

Signs to worry about

Skin cancer usually develops as a new “mole” or as changes in an existing “mole”. You should be concerned about any mole that:

  • Grows or is more than 1cm wide.
  • Has irregular edges.
  • Bleeds.
  • Has varying colour.
  • Itches.

We are fortunate to live in a wonderfully sunny climate but this comes at a price so we all need to take care.