Skin-smart Habits To Reduce Skin Cancer Risk
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Skin-smart Habits To Reduce Skin Cancer Risk

By Dr Marion Morkel, 20 January 2021

As we welcome a new year, we find ourselves in one of the hottest months of summer. Skin Cancer Awareness Months take place from 1 December to 31 January to encourage South Africans to be skin smart given the high rate of skin cancer in South Africa.

Dr Marion Morkel, Chief Medical Officer at Sanlam, explains that while you should be skin smart when it comes to sun exposure, moderate sun exposure elevates your mood, improves your sleep, promotes bone growth and helps strengthen your immune system, so the sun should not be avoided completely.

According to the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA), South Africa has one of the highest skin cancer rates globally. So, how much sun is too much and what can you do to safeguard yourself from skin cancer? Practising skin-smart habits from an early age can help to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer. Dr Morkel explains that the risk increases with age and with years of exposure to the sun, which is why it is important to not only adopt skin-smart habits but also to ensure that you have the right cover should you be diagnosed with skin cancer and need treatment.

Sanlam offers comprehensive Severe Illness Cover and a unique Cancer-only Benefit that covers all stages of malignant melanoma from stage I to IV; basal cell skin carcinoma or squamous cell skin carcinoma (stage I or II), skin graft or skin flaps; and all non-melanoma skin cancer, diagnosed as stage III or IV.

Below, Dr Morkel discusses skin-smart habits to adopt from all ages to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

Children: Ages 2 – 12

Children watch your every move, so it is important to teach them healthy skin habits from an early age, notes Dr Morkel. These include washing your face every morning and every evening and wearing a protective sunscreen with a good Sun Protection Factor (SPF). Teach your kids to always cover up by wearing a hat, sunglasses with UV protection and protective clothing, and to seek shade whenever possible during hot summer days – and to avoid exposure completely when the sun is at its harshest between 10:00 and 16:00.

Teens: Ages 13 – 18

As your teenager embarks on the puberty phase, which may include acne, it is important to get the right products to not only treat these complaints but to also help them avoid sun damage. They should be taught to cleanse carefully, wash off makeup before bed and use a good sunblock which will also prevent acne breakouts from turning dark. Teenagers are also strongly encouraged to avoid using tanning beds as they can trigger early signs of ageing and increase the risk of developing skin cancer.

In Your 20s – 30s

In your 20s and 30s, the production of collagen in your body starts to decline which leads to thinner skin. By now, Dr Morkel explains, you should start to develop a skincare routine which includes washing your face, wearing sunscreen every day as well as using an antioxidant serum to protect your skin from pollution and sun damage.

In Your 40s – 50s

When you reach your 40s, you really start to see changes in the firmness of your skin, explains Dr Morkel. Due to the loss of elasticity and volume, as well as wrinkles and sun damage, you may need to include retinoid cream and peptides in your skin routine. In addition to anti-ageing benefits, retinoid has shown effective results in reversing precancerous skin damage. Peptides, which can be contained in moisturisers or serums, also assist in boosting collagen production.

In Your 60s and Beyond

It’s never too late to start anti-ageing treatments. A lack of hydration is amongst the main skincare concerns in your 60s. Dr Morkel recommends having a very simple, hydrating, and gentle skincare routine.

It’s Never Too Late To Become Skin Smart

The cost of reversing sun-caused skin complications can be anything from R390 to R40 000. In 2019 Sanlam paid out R17 018 029 in claims for skin cancer under their Severe Illness benefits.

“While not everyone would have developed good, skin-smart habits at an early age, it's never too late to start. Avoiding sun exposure, caring for your skin, and educating yourself about what your skin needs is the best you can do to reduce the risk of developing skin cancer,” concludes Dr Morkel.

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