Today is Labour Day and thousands of Jamaicans are hard at work in their communities on various refurbishing and beautification projects, many of which will involve long hours in the sun. Many Jamaicans, especially those of us with darker skin tones, tend to be unconcerned about sun damage and skin cancer, believing that melanin alone will protect us. However, people with darker skin do get sunburn and are also at risk for skin cancers, which often go undiagnosed and untreated due to this false perception.
Since May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month and summertime is fast approaching (and let’s face it, the sun is almost always shining in Jamaica), we dedicate this Tip Thursday to educating you about the dangers of too much ‘fun in the sun.’
- Check your skin for signs of skin cancer. Look for unusual tan, brown or black raised spots; blood vessel growths (spots that look like bruises); soft growths of benign fat cells and warts. Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, can appear on parts of the body that people do not think to check, such as the scalp, palms, soles, feet, nails and genital area. Also, be sure to check beneath the nails for brown to black-coloured streaks. Use this body mole map to help you. Visit a dermatologist if you have any concerns.
- Avoid unnecessary exposure to UV rays. Avoid being outdoors in intense sunlight for extended periods of time. This includes tanning or ‘sunning’ at the beach or using tanning beds. A tan is not a sign of good health – it is a sign that you have damaged your skin. Also, try not to be in the sun between 10am and 4pm, when the sun is strongest.
- Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen with at least SPF 15 to exposed skin whenever you are venturing outside. For maximum effectiveness, apply 20 to 30 minutes before going into the sun and reapply every two hours thereafter. Sunscreen does not prevent melanoma, but it does reduce the amount of dangerous UV rays your skin is exposed to.
- Wear protective clothing. The higher the temperature climbs, the less clothing you want to wear. However, dermatologists advise wearing long-sleeved shirts and pants as much as possible. For the summer, seek clothing made of light materials such as cotton and linen. Also, wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
- Children need special attention. Protect your children from excess sun exposure by using the measures described above. Children are very sensitive to ultraviolet radiation— just one severe sunburn in childhood increases the chances of developing melanoma later in life. Also, check their skin for any unusual spots. Keep newborns out of the sun – sunscreen is not to be used on babies less than six months old.