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Be sun smart ahead of Skin Cancer Awareness Month

Be sun smart ahead of Skin Cancer Awareness Month

From 1 December – 31 January, South Africa puts the spotlight on skin cancer – a highly preventable disease. South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world after Australia. These two months aim to raise awareness and educate people about the dangers of the sun and its rays.

Sunburn is essentially an inflammation of the skin that has been caused by over exposure to the harmful rays of the sun. Just a few serious sunburns at a young age can increase the risk of developing skin cancer at a later stage.


Sunscreen or sunblock is important for when heading outdoors. Apply it at least 30 minutes before going out into the sun. The SPF (sun protection factor) in a sunscreen, which is also often found on the label, provides an indication of the amount of protection being offered. E.g. SPF 20 means that you can remain in the sun twenty times longer than without protection, before burning.

Keep in mind

Before applying sunscreen, check the expiry date on the bottle. Shake the bottle before applying and reapply after sunbathing, towel drying or after sweating heavily.

In the event of over exposure to the sun, run cool water over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes, three or four times per day, until the redness subsides. This can provide immense relief since the evaporating water will moisten and cool the skin.

A sunburn relief spray or moisturising cream will further ease the discomfort. Avoid using petroleum jelly on a burn, since it will seal out the air needed for healing. In the case of severe sunburn, blistering, pain, nausea or chills, a doctor should be called immediately.

Do’s and don’ts

– Don’t wait for a healthy red glow to appear before reaching for your hat or sunblock.

– Do wear protective clothing, hats and shirts before going out into the sun.

– Don’t be out in the sun when the sun is at its strongest, between 10h00 and 15h00 in summer.

– Don’t skip the sunscreen when it is slightly overcast, particularly not if you are on the beach, since ultraviolet light can penetrate light cloud cover.

– Do dress appropriately – exposure to the sun whilst overdressed only adds to skin distress.

– Do not rely on a beach umbrella alone as it cannot protect from the reflected glare of sun on sand. Instead, pitch a small beach tent, which will provide adequate shelter.

Myths, busted!

– The sun is only dangerous in summer or on a hot day.

– Sunscreen will protect you completely from harmful effects of the sun’s rays.

– One or two cases of sunburn won’t result in skin cancer.

– People with darker skin are not at risk of getting skin cancer.

– Sun beds or self-tanners are a safer alternative to achieve a tan.

You are now fully equipped to go out and enjoy the sun responsibly. We encourage all to practise proper sun care throughout the year, and not only in the summer months. For more information on skin cancer in South Africa and how you could get involved, visit http://www.cansa.org.za.