3 Things to remember before you sunbathe this summer

3 Things to remember before you sunbathe this summer

Published on 24th October, 2019 at 11:44 am

One in 50. That’s South Africa’s lifetime risk for developing melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. And it’s no surprise, says Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam: scorching summers combined with an active lifestyle increase the risk of developing the life-threatening disease, with as few as three blistering sunburns enough to irreversibly change the genetic information in the skin cell, which causes cancer.

And it’s not just cancer you have to worry about. Other risks include ageing and pigmentation, scarring, chronic inflammatory disorders and allergies such as eczema, warns Dr Dagmar Whitaker, president of the Melanoma Society of South Africa.

So, what can you do to avoid becoming a statistic?

Stay out of the sun

Eighty-per-cent of a person’s lifetime skin damage happens in the first 20 years of life, cautions Dr Whitaker. But that doesn’t give adults a free pass. “You should not think that just because you had little sun exposure as a child, you are safe as an adult,” says Dr Morkel. “As proof of this: there are many people who move from a less sun-exposed area to a sunnier environment, and only have significant sun exposure as an adult, who also develop skin cancer.” Avoid direct sun exposure, especially during the hottest time of day, between 10am and 2pm.

Cover up when you head outdoors

Sun protection has to be a combination of sun-protective clothing – which is most important – and sunscreen on all uncovered areas (face, ears, hands, forearms and chest, etc.), says Dr Whitaker. “Make sure the sunscreen you select has enough UVB and UVA protection and is not lower than SPF 50,” she advises. “A good factor 50+ sunscreen usually costs between R150 and R300.”

And while this may seem like a steep price to pay on a regular basis, compare it to the cost of reversing sun-caused skin complications. This can range from R390 for a single mole removal (not forgetting the specialist consultation fee) to R40 000 for microscopically controlled surgery per cancer.

Be wary of sun-protective pills. These are not a replacement for sun-protective clothing and sunscreen, and are nowhere near clinical use.

Prepare for anything

Prevention is better than cure, but there’s a limit to the preventative measures you can take for yourself and your family. That’s why comprehensive severe illness cover and a tailored severe illness cancer benefit can help ease the financial impact of a cancer diagnosis. This covers the cost of all stages of malignant melanoma, basal cell skin carcinoma or squamous cell skin carcinoma (stages I or II), having undergone a skin graft or skin flap; and all non-melanoma skin cancer, diagnosed as stage III or IV.

“Last year, Sanlam paid out R8.9-million in claims for skin cancer,” shares Dr Morkel. She also advises that people invest in dread disease cover, and ensure their insurance is up to date.

Sanlam Reality members enjoy up to 30% off Sanlam risk products – click here to find out more.

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