It’s summertime again and everyone is looking forward to spending time outdoors to enjoy our wonderful climate.  But remember, your enjoyment could turn out to be short-lived if you do not take the required precautions.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and is very precious. Skin should therefore be protected at all times when outdoors.

Skin cancer is one the most common forms of cancer in South Africa. The three major types of skin cancer are the highly curable basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas and the more serious malignant melanoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma is the most common kind of skin cancer. Slow growing, it usually begins with a small shiny pearly bump or nodule on the head, neck and hand or exposed parts of the body. If left untreated, it can bleed and crust over only to open again.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma may start as red patches with well defined outlines, typically on the lips, face, and tips of the ears or areas exposed to UV light. Unlike basal cell carcinoma, these skin cancers can spread to other parts of the body and can become quite large if untreated.

Although death rates from basal cell and squamous cell carcinomas are low, these cancers can cause considerable damage and disfigurement if they are left untreated. However, when detected and treated early, these carcinomas have a cure rate of more than 95%.

Malignant Melanoma is the least common, but the most serious of the major skin cancers. It may originate in or near a mole anywhere on the body. Melanomas continue to grow larger and have irregular borders. If discovered early enough, melanoma is completely curable. If not treated promptly, it can spread throughout the body and can be fatal.

Unprotected sun exposure and skin cancer is a serious threat to all South Africans, but especially children, as 80% of skin damage occurs before the age of 18 and manifests later in life. It is adults’ responsibility to set a good example for children on how to protect their skin.

UV protection is essential for all types of skin, whether it is dark or light. The main aim is to prevent skin damage and premature ageing of the skin.


Use Sunscreen
Sunscreens are rated with a sun protection factor (SPF), a laboratory measure that assesses their ability to filter out harmful rays. The SPF rating indicates the level of protection that a product will provide. For good protection, a minimum of SPF20, but not higher than SPF50 is recommended.

The higher the SPF claim, the more protection you will get. For example, if you start burning within 5 minutes of UV exposure, then a sunscreen with a SPF20 protection factor will protect your skin for 100 minutes (20 x 5 minutes).

The biggest mistake people make with sunscreen application, is that they do not apply enough of the product to the skin. For adequate protection, a 1mm layer should be applied to the skin.
Any claims on the label of any sunscreen are extremely important to the consumer. Ensure that you read and understand the content of the product. For example:

SPF = the rating of the protection level that the product offers

Broad spectrum = Protection against UVA & UVB radiation

Water-resistant = this product will protect you even though you are in the water, but the SPF level will be lower in the water. A claim that a sunscreen is "waterproof" is not acceptable as this is not possible.

  • Always use a broad spectrum SPF20 sunscreen on all exposed skin and avoid direct sun between 10am and 3pm.  People with lighter
  • hair and skin should consider a higher SPF.
  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and reapply after swimming, perspiring, towel drying, etc.
  • Always apply sunscreen to dry skin.
  • Always use sunscreen at high-altitude activities, such as mountain climbing and snow skiing.
  • Ensure that your sunscreens are kept cool and are not exposed to extreme heat conditions.
  • Take note of the expiry dates on sunscreen products and discard expired products.

People should not depend totally on sunscreen products; they merely form part of the toolbox in UV protection. Sunscreens should not be used with a view to spending more time in the sun, as exposure to UV radiation still damages the skin.

Cover up with clothing
UV radiation can penetrate fabric. Hold the fabric up against the sunlight; if the sun penetrates the fabric, then UV radiation will also penetrate through the fabric, reaching your skin. Be aware not to look directly into the sun as you could permanently damage your eyes. Denim provides good protection; cotton fabric allows approximately 15% of UVR to penetrate, while wet cotton is more permeable (30% penetration), so swimming in a T-shirt provides poor protection.  A nylon stocking allows about 75% of UVR through.

Hats should become an essential item for everybody. Invest in a hat with a wide brim and made of thickly woven fabric. The cricket-type hats are a very good example of good UV protection. A sun-peak is not advisable as the ears and the neck are not protected.

Remember, a hat should not only be worn on the beach or at the pool - but whenever you are exposed to UV radiation, e.g. gardening, walking the dog, attending outdoor events, visiting the flea market, etc.

How to examine your skin:

Getting to know your skin and awareness of existing moles, freckles, spots and marks are essential. Skin cancer can develop from existing moles, spots, etc. Therefore, a frequent (every 3 months) skin self-examination is extremely important. Ensure that you are also aware of moles and marks on the skin of your partner and children. If you notice any change in your skin on a particular place, such as continuous itching, redness, swelling, bleeding, a persistent non-healing sore or anything irregular, please consult your doctor.

Stand in front of a mirror and have a handheld mirror handy. Check your chest, abdomen, legs and arms, the sides of your body, the back of your legs, shoulders, neck and back.

Skin cancer can be treated successfully when detected early. Never delay seeking medical advice if concerned about a particular spot on your skin, it is not worth the risk!

For more information please visit:
CANSA  TOLL-FREE  HELPLINE 0800 22 66 22 (Weekdays 08H00 – 16H30)