The dark side of the sun

25th January, 2017
Juliet Pitman

At least 80%of sun-induced skin damage happens before the age of 18, which is why it’s crucial to protect your children’s skin. We show you how to block the sun, but still have fun!

Getting Sun Smart

South Africa’s glorious sunshine has a dark side. Skin cancer is the most common cancer in South Africa, with about 20 000 cases and 700 deaths reported annually. In fact, the country has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, after Australia.

“Stop worshipping the sun and start respecting life” is the message from CANSA.

Here’s what they recommend:

  • Avoid direct sunlight between 10:00 and 15:00 when the sun’s rays are most dangerous. Stay in the shade or under an umbrella as much as possible.
  • UVrays reflect off cement, water, sand, glass and grass and can therefore cause sunburn in the shade. UVrays are not the same as heat. You can get overexposed even in cool weather – so take care on windy or overcast days.
  • Cover up by wearing thickly-woven hats with wide brims and loose-fitting clothes, made of tightly-woven fabric that is cool, but will block out harmful UVrays. Look out for UV-protective swimsuits and beachwear, as UVradiation can penetrate fabric. Swimwear and umbrellas bearing the CANSASeal of Recognition should also be part of your protection kit.
  • Always apply sunscreen with a minimum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of 20 to all exposed skin areas. Re-apply at least every two hours, after towel-drying, perspiring or swimming. Remember to include the back of the neck, tips of ears, arms, feet and hands.
  • Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses with a UVprotection rating of UV400.

Know Your Risk Profile

It’s important to mention that anyone can develop skin cancer. There is a misconception that people with dark skins, such as Indians and Black South Africans, can’t develop skin cancer. This is not true.

Your skin’s pigment is your natural protection against the sun, and people with a fair skin are at a higher risk, but this does not mean that dark-skinned people are at no risk at all. It’s important to understand your skin type as this will indicate your risk profile.

Protecting Your Children

It’s particularly important to protect the sensitive skin of children, not only because they are unable to take responsibility for their own safety in the sun, but because two blistering burns before the age of 18 can dramatically increase their risk of getting cancer later in life.

Paediatricians recommend babies under the age of six months aren’t exposed to any direct sunlight, because their skin has not yet developed sun protection defences. Not only can they suffer the short- and long-term damage of sunburn but also heat stroke, which can be life threatening.

Toddlers and young children can spend hours outdoors and often the devastating effects of the sun are noticed too late. The golden rule when it comes to protecting toddlers is sunscreen. The Cancer Association of South Africa recommends generously applying sunscreen 30 minutes before your child goes out in the sun. Choose a sunscreen with a high SPF (Sun Protection Factor) and apply everywhere including the nose, ears, hands, feet, shoulders, and on the neck.

Reapply sunscreen every two to three hours and don’t be fooled by labels that state the sunscreen is water-resistant or waterproof. You still need to reapply after your toddler gets wet.