I scream, you scream, we ALL (should) be screaming for sunscreen!

01/12/2021

With the holidays around the corner, many of us will be heading outdoors to celebrate the end of a wild year and just catch up with friends and family. But the dark side of this sunny prospect is that most of us probably won’t be taking as much care as we should to limit sun damage.

Don’t think this is such a big deal?

Do you think you don’t need sunscreen because you have a dark complexion? Trusting your rich levels of melanin to protect you from the sun’s harmful rays? We’re sorry to burst your bubble of sunny summer fun – but you DO need sunscreen.

Even though melanin does give some protection against at least the most painful sunburns, it still doesn’t mean that dark skin is impervious to the damaging rays of our harsh African sun. Skin cancer or “melanoma” is one of the most prevalent forms of cancer in Sub-Saharan Africa. Yes. Even darker skin tones can and DO get skin cancer. In fact, the risk of someone with a dark complexion getting skin cancer is more, simply because they will most likely only be diagnosed at a later stage.

What is solar radiation? (And what does it mean for my DNA?)

One of the biggest risk factors leading to skin cancer is exposure to solar radiation. Yes – sun exposure alone can be enough; you don’t even have to burn excessively for solar radiation to start having a negative impact on your health.

The problem with solar radiation is that it is more than just a sunburn. Its important to understand that our sun, the centre of our galaxy, the source of life on earth, is basically a constantly occurring nuclear explosion. The power of the Sun – what we see and feel each day as lovely (and abundant) sunshine, is the result of active nuclear fusion where Hydrogen is fused to create Helium – a massive, violent, and never-ending nuclear reaction. Which is great for life on earth…but ignoring the dangers of Solar radiation is literally “playing with fire” in a very real sense…

Why is skin cancer so dangerous?

What happens when you have been exposed to excessive solar radiation is that the radiation penetrates your skin and reaches your DNA. The radiation alters your DNA, leading to mutations on a cellular level. These cellular mutations (cells that start reproducing incorrectly) can become malignant cancerous cells. Unlike other forms of cancer that can lead to unexplained weight loss, feelings of ill health, pain and other pronounced symptoms, Melanoma (one of the most prevalent types of skin cancer) usually only appears as a mark on the skin, or a small lesion that might itch or burn a bit but doesn’t present as a major health hazard at first glance.

This all sounds bad…is there good news?

Luckily humanity has come to its own rescue and created extremely clever scientifically formulated sunscreens. Most sunscreens contain either Zinc or Titanium Oxide, which absorbs and refracts solar radiation, preventing the UV-rays from penetrating the skin and causing cell damage.

The first thing you need to understand is that there are two types of UV rays, and different levels of sun protection. Reading (and understanding) your sunscreen label is the first step to being more sun-savvy.

What is UVA and UVB?

UVA and UVB rays are both types of ultraviolet light coming from the sun. UVA penetrates deeper into the skin and can cause more visible damage, leading to premature aging and wrinkles. UVB is a type of UV-ray that affects the outer layer of skin. UVB is also absorbed by the ozone layer and only about 5% of UV-rays that reach the earth are UVB.

Most Sunscreens block both types of UV -light, and that’s good, because although they affect different parts of the skin, both types of UV-rays can have devastating effects on your health.

What is SPF

SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. This means that if you would have started burning within 10 minutes on a normal sunny day, and you apply a sunscreen with an SPF rating of 30, you will now have a level of protection allowing you to spend 300 minutes in the sun before you will burn. Take this into account when choosing sunscreen. SPF 50 will give you 500 minutes of protection, while SPF 5 wont even give you a full hour…

Don’t rely on sunscreen alone!

Sunscreen counts as a chemical barrier to solar radiation. For optimal protection against the damaging rays of the sun, apply a multi-facetted approach and use a physical barrier as well. Tightly woven longs sleeved clothing, wide brimmed hats and sunglasses are indispensable tools in your fight against sun damage.

What about the children?

Because they contain zinc or titanium oxide, most sunscreens are not suitable for young children. The best option is to keep babies and very young children out of the sun completely, and to invest in a good quality child save sunscreen for older children. Teach children to wear hats and protective clothing from a young age and ensure that you apply and reapply their sunscreen correctly and regularly when outside.

…And my fur babies?

Pets, specifically those with light skin on their faces and bellies also need sun protection or could stand the chance of getting skin cancer. Speak to your vet or local pet shop about what types of sunscreens are pet safe and make sure to keep your fur friends sun safe!