Our 2020 Euro trips have eluded us. We hibernated, got by on video call catch-ups, and wore our sweat sets for months straight. So it’s not unreasonable to want to compensate by spending every forecast-fine weekend with extra time outside. But we all know our spots, burns, and suntans are marks on our proverbial record; our skin is keeping score every time we forget the golden rules (SPF etc). We spoke to former beauty editor and Call Time On Melanoma founder Lisa Patulny as well as Dr. Chandru, a Sydney skin cancer clinician, on why sun safety should be as high on our self care pyramid as washing our face.
A sobering fact: Australia has one of the highest rates of melanoma in the world. It’s not only our most common cancer among those between 15 and 39, but two-thirds of us will be diagnosed with skin cancer in our lifetime, according to the Melanoma Institute Australia and Cancer Council.
“The majority of melanomas are caused by overexposure to the sun,” says the Call Time On Melanoma founder. “And it’s not just moles. It could be a lump under the skin and it could pop up in different places. Be sun safe and in touch with your own body.”
And the difference between UV rays? UVA rays age us (think wrinkles and sagging skin) while UVB is responsible for burns. Ultimately sun exposure damages our DNA, which leads to skin cancer.
SO WHAT DO THE PROS RECOMMEND?
Dr Chandru, a clinician at the SunDoctors Skin Cancer Clinic recommends using a combination of tools to prevent cumulative sun damage.
1. Stay out of the sun
Do your best to find shade, especially between 11am and 4pm, and put a limit on your time in the sun in general. While vitamin D is vital for our bone and mental health, as well as our immunity, “if you’re spending a day at the beach, worry about protecting your skin and not about getting Vitamin D,” says Dr. Chandru. Take it from the Cancer Council: incidental exposure in summer is ample for Vitamin D intake. For a healthier glow, build your bronze from a bottle.
2. Cover up
"When you’re going to be in the sun opt for rash vests over bikinis which leave you exposed,” Dr. Chandru advises. Save that backless top for after sunset and choose loose, long sleeves and hemlines where possible. As for accessories, always wear a hat and take those sunglasses everywhere from the beach to driving and walking.
3. Be a sunscreen queen
Beauty experts and dermatologists will agree – SPF50+ with broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection should be part of your daily routine, no matter what you have planned. The Cancer Council recommends applying ½ tsp to your face and another ½ to cover your ears and neck. Plus 1 teaspoon for each limb or a cupped hand for your entire body according to the TGA. Whatever way you swing it, the more SPF the better. Remember to reapply regularly, especially after swimming and sweating. Pro tip: the SunSmart app can keep track of your sunscreen applications so you can stay in holiday mode.
4. Beat ultraviolet rays
Dr. Chandru points out that even if it’s overcast doesn’t mean you won’t get burnt; just ask anyone who goes fishing. That's why sun protection is recommended at a UV index of 3+ – even if it's cloudy or cool – which you can check daily based on your location from a veritable source like the Bureau of Meteorology. ‘Think UV, not heat’ says the BOM.
While people with darker skin are less likely to present with skin cancer, it doesn’t rule out sun damage. On top of this, cancers acquired are more likely to be fatal, according to the Asian Pacific Journal Of Skin Cancer Prevention. Bottom line? Protect your skin from sun damage and prevent skin cancer no matter your skin tone or type.
4. Beat ultraviolet rays
5. Check up on it
“Create a skin check plan in conjunction with your GP, skin cancer clinic, or dermatologist. Be an advocate for yourself,” says Paultny. “For some, seeing a GP is adequate and others should see a dermatologist. Assess your risk factors: your skin type, how many burns you’ve had, whether you’ve used a solarium. Be an educated consumer and make a choice that’s right for you,” she recommends.
Respect that skin of yours. Future you = grateful.
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