Sunsmart Tips For The Ultra Fair Skinned

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Skin cancer is a very real threat to anyone who spends time in the sun or being exposed to UV rays, but particularly for people with very fair skin and for those with albinism.

December and January are the main Skin Cancer Awareness months in South Africa, as people are urged to be sun-smart over these hot summer months. Sunburn can occur within fifteen minutes, and the damage caused is permanent, irreversible, and adds up with each exposure to the sun. Skin cancer is the most common cancer worldwide and SA has one of the highest monitored ultraviolet (UV) levels in the world, resulting in one of the highest skin cancer rates globally.

Dr. S’lindile Ndwalane a leading dermatologist from The Specialist Laser and Cosmetic Institute (SCIN), a world-class medical aesthetic and cosmetic institute with branches in Johannesburg and Cape Town, explains that people who suffer from albinism, a genetic disease characterised by a lack of pigmentation of the skin, hair, and eyes, have extreme sensitivity to sun exposure. 

According to Dr. Sli, for people with albinism, the risks of developing skin cancer and skin disorders are extremely high, and studies suggest that most people with albinism die from skin cancer between the ages of 30 and 40 (report by I. Ero, independent expert for the United Nations, 2015).

Dr. Sli provides the following advice for anyone who suffers from albinism or has children or family members with albinism. This same advice applies for people with very fair skin who burn easily.

1)     Firstly, ensure that you limit your exposure to the sun and UV rays as much as possible – make conscious decisions to not go outdoors during the hottest hours of the day, and if you must be outside, ensure you are covered up from the sun. Avoid UV rays wherever possible – close window coverings, avoid sitting in indirect sunlight, etc.

2)    Wear protective clothing, such as long sleeve shirts and long pants as well as a wide-brimmed hat. Choose shirts with collars, and tightly woven fabrics that don’t let light through. Also, make sure you have sunglasses that are specifically made to protect from UV rays.

3)    Use broad-spectrum sunscreens with SPF of 50 or greater and apply this to all exposed areas. Make sure to reapply frequently as well.

4)    Use an umbrella when walking outside during the day to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.  You can buy umbrellas that are manufactured out of a UV protective fabric.

5)    Undergo frequent skin examinations by someone who has been taught to recognise signs of skin cancer.

“Likewise, for people with very pale skin who lack melanin, you need to be extremely careful in the sun,” says Dr. Sli. “Most of the cases of skin cancer I see are caused by excess exposure to ultraviolet radiation and could have been avoided through adequate sun-protective behaviours,” says Dr. Sli. “People with very pale skin or those with albinism should promptly report suspicious spots or growths to a doctor!”

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