The most common cancer amongst all Africans is skin cancer. This includes melanomas as well as non-melanomas. About 13 000 cases are reported annually.
A tan is not a sign of good health; it is a sign that the skin has been damaged by ultraviolet radiation. When the sun damages cells, melanin rushes to the surface to provide protection against the next onslaught. As you slowly build up a ‘protective’ tan, your skin is darkening in response to damage on top of damage. There are three types of skin cancer: the two most common are ‘basal cell’ and ‘squamous cell carcinomas’, which are easily treated and, although they can lead to disfigurement, they are rarely fatal. The third and most dangerous is the ‘malignant melanoma’.
There is strong evidence that melanomas occur on sun-damaged skin and that people are particularly at risk when they have sudden, short bursts of sunlight on holidays in places where the sun is very strong.
Children absorb up to 70-80% of their lifetime UV damage before the age of 18 years.
– Although melanomas can affect most parts of the body, the most common place for women is on the legs, whilst in men, it is on the torso and particularly on the back.
Over the past 60 years, damage to our planet’s ozone layer has increased the amount of harmful radiation that reaches our skin. Scientists estimate that the ozone layer has been depleted by 3-6%, thus allowing up to 12% more UV radiation to reach us.
UV radiation is made up of UVA, UVB and UVC rays. UVA rays age the skin while UVB rays burn the skin. UVC radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer in the upper atmosphere, but the destruction of the ozone layer is of great concern.
UV radiation is not felt as heat on the skin, so even on a cool and cloudy day, it may be just as high and just as damaging as on a clear and sunny day. Also be alert to reflective surfaces that might throw damaging rays up at sensitive places like the underside of the chin.
If you really cannot face being pale on holiday or during the summer months, there is a booming industry in excellent fake tanning products. So rather be safe than sorry and apply an artificial tanning lotion or cream. It is important to note that many don’t contain a sunscreen ingredient. The ‘tan’ you get with them won’t protect you from the sun so remember to apply sunscreen over your fake tan.