Protecting your skin when seasons change

Protecting your skin when seasons change

As we're moving towards warmer weather conditions, and embracing a change in seasons - protecting your skin against both UVA and UVB rays should be priority. Newswatch sat down with a Umhlanga-based dermatologist, Dr. Cebisile Sibisi speaking on sun exposure, and the prevention of long-term damages to the skin.

Sunscreen on Summer Days
Getty Images

South Africa has the second highest incidents of skin cancer in the world, next to Australia. 

CANSA states that 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed annually with non-melanoma skin cancers - cancers that form in the upper and middle layers of the epidermis and rarely spread to other parts of the body.

At least 1 500 people are diagnosed with melanoma - a type of cancer that develops from the pigment-containing cells and may occur in other parts of the body. 

Speaking to Newswatch, Umhlanga-based dermatologist, Dr. Cebisile Sibisi says early detection and treatment may in the end save one’s life.

Sibisi says members of the public should book themselves in for an examination at least once a year. 

"It is imperative that patients with lighter skin types, or a history of skin cancer in the family, see a dermatologist on an annual basis or sooner if they notice any changes in their moles. Darker skinned people are not completely immune to getting skin cancer but their presentation might differ slightly," she says.   

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She says myths about using sunscreen still exist. These include -  

"I only need sunscreen on my face" 

Skin cancer loves anywhere the sun touches. You can get it on your arms, legs, back, feet, and chest. While it’s good to protect your face, skipping the rest of the areas exposed to the sun leaves you vulnerable - not just to skin cancer but signs of aging as well especially when you spend most of the day outdoors.

"People with sensitive skin should not use sunscreens" 

Incorrect, they actually need it more. If you have sensitive skin - you might react to certain ingredients in the sunscreen. So in this case, I usually advise these patients to use a physical sunscreen, which has titanium dioxide or zinc oxide to block rays, which is less irritating. Avoid chemicals like PABA, dioxybenzone, oxybenzone, or sulisobenzone and sunscreens with alcohol, fragrances or preservatives.

"The more expensive a sunscreen is, the better it will be"

What actually matters is that you should apply the sunscreen 10-15 minutes before going in the sun, and then re-apply it every three hours, if you continue being exposed to the sun. Also make sure that the contents blocks both UVA and UVB rays.

"Using sunscreen will lead to Vitamin D deficiency"

A large number of the population is deficient in Vitamin D to some degree irrespective of sunscreen use because we don’t get enough of it from the environment and our diet. Sunscreens do not lead to vitamin D deficiency and this has been scientifically proven. So start protecting your skin, rather take supplements to correct your deficiency than risk getting skin cancer instead. 

Skin cancer in South Africa
The Cancer Association of South Africa

Examining yourself regularly

Dr. Sibisi says regular self-examination can help detect early signs of skin cancer. 

"I always advise couples or family members to examine each other monthly especially on hard to reach areas like your back. For melanoma we use the ABCDE method to try detect changes. But for the non-melanoma skin cancers - I always advise patients that if they see any lesion that is persistent - have it checked," she says. 

 The ABCDE method looks at asymmetry (if part of a mole doesn't match the other), border irregularity, colour on the skin, a diameter that's greater than 6 mm and the evolving size, shape or colour.

Skin cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer - so always use sunscreen and protective clothing when outdoors for extended periods of time!

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