The sun is a kingpin in the melanoma epidemic, with South Africa topping the list of countries with the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. Despite a surge in research proving beyond doubt that the sun is the main enemy of skin there are still many misconceptions surrounding the effects of Ultraviolet radiation.
Dr Hardie de Beer, leading dermatologist and creator of the revolutionary sunscreen SAFARI (available in both SPF 40 and SPF 50 for people who spend more than average time in direct sunlight)) – ideal for those living under the African sun – debunks eight common sun damage myths and gives advice on how you can invest in the future of your skin…right now.
Myth #1: Children Don’t Need Protection
By the time a child reaches adolescence, nine out of every ten of them will have UV-related skin damage. “Strong scientific evidence indicates that UV exposure during childhood and adolescence is a risk factor for developing skin cancer in later life,” says Dr De Beer. “Childhood is a critical period during which UV radiation can do the most damage. Often signs don’t appear until later in life and then it may be anything from pigmentation through to skin cancer and from cataracts through to a suppressed immune system. It only takes a few minutes for a child’s skin to burn and that damage is permanent and cumulative.”
Myth #2: All Sunscreens Are Created Equally
Sunscreen is the most important part of our daily beauty routine. It’s the beginning of skin care for life so ensure you buy a sunscreen which offers broad-spectrum protection to ward off both UVA and UVB rays. Dr De Beer recommends at least SPF20 products and warns not to depend totally on sunscreen to prevent skin damage.
“While certain sunscreens protect against sunburn, they don’t necessarily prevent the occurrence of skin cancer,” he explains. “SAFARI Sunscreen SPF 50+, developed in South Africa, protects the skin against both UVA and UVB rays for up to five hours and is effective for two to five hours during swimming. It’s non-greasy/oily; non-comedogenic; aids in the prevention of ageing and wrinkles; is clinically tested for irritants, contains no artificial fragrance or colourant and is approved by the Pharmaceutical Council.”
Myth #3: Sunscreen Is Protection Enough
While sunscreen is your first defence against burning it; is still a good idea to stay out of the sun at midday and to protect yourself by wearing clothing that covers the skin and hats with wide brims. “When using sunscreen reapply it at least every three hours, and more often when swimming. Keep in mind that clothing made of dark, tightly woven materials absorb ultraviolet light better than cotton fabrics in lighter shades, while dry fabrics also offer more protection than wet ones,” says Dr De Beer. “UV rays can also cause cataracts and damage to the retina of the eye so choose sunglasses with UV protection.”
Myth #4: It’s Cloudy, So You Won’t Burn
UV radiation is not felt as heat on the skin, so even on a cool and cloudy day the radiation may be just as high and just as damaging as on a clear sunny day. “In fact,” adds Dr De Beer, “80 to 85 percent of UV radiation passes through the clouds! Grey clouds allow 32 percent of rays to shine through to the surface, and white, fluffy clouds are worse as they allow 89 percent of rays through. Calculations suggest that locations in the southern hemisphere receive approximately 15 percent more UV radiation than locations at a similar latitude north of the equator. This is caused by differences in ozone between the northern and southern hemispheres. So even if it’s cloudy, cover up.”
Myth #5: Sun Beds Are Safer Than The Sun
A tan is your body’s attempt to protect itself from the damaging effect of UV rays so if your skin is a shade darker in summer, you’re also a step closer to premature ageing. “There is a belief that a tan connotes health and beauty but in reality all it does is accelerate the ageing process,” says Dr De Beer. “Tanning at a salon is no safer than tanning outdoors. Sunbeds, sunlamps and tanning booths give out the same type of harmful radiation as sunlight. In fact, they may even be more harmful, depending on factors such as the strength of UV used, how often you use them, length of your sunbed sessions, your skin type (for example, whether you have fair or dark skin), and your age.
Using sunbeds for the first time before the age of 35 increases the risk of developing melanoma skin cancer by nearly 60 percent. Sunbeds give out ultraviolet (UV) rays that increase your risk of developing skin cancer (both malignant melanoma and non-melanoma). Many sunbeds give out greater doses of UV rays than the midday tropical sun.
Myth #6: Dark Skinned People Don’t Get Sunburnt
Any colour skin can burn. “The skin pigment melanin is produced by special skin cells called melanocytes to protect the body from the damaging effects of ultraviolet light,” explains Dr De Beer. “Higher levels of melanin means less sunburn and less skin cancer but still, even the darkest-skinned person is not protected 100 percent from sunlight. In fact, many dark skinned people die of skin cancer every year because they don’t catch it early enough.”
Myth #7: Your Body Needs Vitamin D
Yes, everybody needs Vitamin D to stay healthy and the sun is one source that helps the body make this group of vitamins,” says Dr De Beer. “However, you don’t need to sit for hours in the sun to get your daily dose. Short periods outdoors (10-15 minutes), when the day is at its coolest, also helps induce Vitamin D. A small number of foods contain this vitamin such as oily fish (salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines), as well as red meat and eggs. If you are concerned, you can also consider a dietary supplement.
Myth #8: Melanoma Only Affects The Elderly
Yes, Melanoma does affect older people, but it can also affects young adults. “Although Melanoma is the least common form of skin cancer it is the most serious and is the one most likely to spread to other parts of the body.,” says Dr De Beer. “The number of cases has about doubled over a period of 20 years or so. Melanoma is the second most common cancer in people aged 15 to 34. Speak to your doctor about the signs and symptoms of Melanoma as early detection is key in successfully treating this disease.”