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It is reported that South Africa has a very high rate of skin cancer irrespective of skin colour and therefore South Africans are advised to take precautionary measures to protect themselves against the sun.

In addition to skin cancer, overexposure to UV radiation can cause eye damage, sunburn or tanning when a person’s skin becomes brown or browner (Department of Health-www.health.gov.za/index.php/gf-tb-program/330-sunsmart-skin-cance-awareness-month)

Benefits of Sunshine

The sun provides a reliable source of vitamin D which is needed for many different processes. The body needs a steady source of vitamin D and the sun is our best natural source of vitamin D. Spending even a short time in the sun can provide the body with all of the vitamin D it needs for the day. According to the Vitamin D Council, this could be:

  • 15 minutes for a person with light skin
  • a couple of hours for a person with dark skin

Very few foods contain significant amounts of vitamin D, so people can ensure they get enough of the vitamin by scheduling regular time outdoors. When the sun’s ultraviolet B (UVB) rays hit a person’s skin, processes inside the tissue start making vitamin D for the body to use. It is essential to remember, however, that too much sun exposure can burn the skin and potentially lead to skin cancer. Vitamin D helps the body to absorb calcium, which is one of the main building blocks of bone. The body also needs vitamin D to keep the nerves, muscles, and immune system working properly (Medically reviewed by  Sampson & by Barrell, 2019)

Dangers of Sun Exposure

The immediate danger of too much sun is sunburn. Looking at sunburned skin under a strong microscope, one would see that the cells and blood vessels have been damaged. With repeated sun damage, the skin starts to look dry, wrinkled, discoloured and leathery. Although the skin appears to be thicker, it actually has been weakened and, as a result, it will bruise more easily. However, the sun’s most serious threat is that it is the major cause of skin cancer, which is now the most common of all cancers. Doctors believe that most skin cancers can be avoided by preventing sun damage (Speaking of Women’s. https://speakimgofwomenshealth.com/health-library/the-dangers-and-benefits-f-sun-exposure).

The Harmful Effects of the Sun

Sun damage to the eyes long-term and unprotected exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun can damage the retina. The retina is the back of the eye, where the rods and cones make visual images, which are then sent to the visual centres in the brain. Damage from exposure to sunlight can also cause the development of cloudy bumps along the edge of the cornea, which can then grow over the cornea and prevent clear vision. UV light is also a factor in the development of cataracts. (BCC)


Basal Cell Carcinoma (BCC)

 

This type of skin cancer almost always occurs on sun-damaged skin and is usually pink, shiny and raised.

Because the skin becomes very soft, it may be easily injured and so may appear as a scab that keeps returning in the same spot. According to Bligard that BCC is especially common in the beard area of men where they use a razor and take the top off the cancer. Although BCC doesn’t generally spread, it does get bigger and deeper over time and can become a problem if ignored. (https://speakimgofwomenshealth.com/health-library/the-Basal Cell Carcinoma

 

Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC)

This skin cancer is also caused by exposure to the sun but can also occur in burn scars (from either heat or radiation treatment) or from chronic ulcers of the skin. In a small number of cases, SCC can spread to the lymph nodes and (rarely) to other organs. Bligard says these can vary in severity and may require special surgical treatments, such as Mohs Surgery, for removal, if they are large or in difficult-to-treat areas.

 

Malignant Melanoma

Melanoma is the least common of these skin cancers, but it is increasing every year, especially in young women between the ages of 18 and 29 because of the high rate of tanning bed use in this population. Melanoma is very dangerous and can occur any place where there are pigment-producing cells, include the entire skin (it does not have to be in direct sun-exposed areas, but sun exposure increases the risk), moles, birthmarks and the eye. It can spread to lymph nodes and beyond to other organs, including the brain, lungs and liver.

Melanoma is much more common in families with a history of abnormal moles or malignant melanoma. Bligard says it is very important that malignant melanoma be diagnosed early, as the thinner the tumour is, the less likely it is to spread. Although there is a lot of research into treatment of melanoma, the best treatment is surgical removal of the tumour and any involved lymph nodes before it has spread.

|One can avoid many of the damaging effects of the sun by following these tips:

  1. Schedule outdoor activities for the early morning or late afternoon/early evening hours when the sun’s rays are not quite as intense.
  2. Wear sunglasses every time you step outdoors. Look for glasses that block 100 percent of UV rays. Wraparound sunglasses provide the best protection.
  3. Block blue light by buying sunglasses with copper or bronze-coloured lenses. (Make sure the glasses also protect you from UV light.)
  4. Buy a hat with a large brim for increased sun protection.
  5. Wear sunglasses even if your contacts block UV light. Although the protection is very helpful, your lenses don’t protect your entire eye.
  6. Don’t take your sunglasses off in shady locations. Your UV exposure decreases in the shade, but you will still receive some exposure from reflected light from sand, road surfaces or buildings.

 

Sources:

Skin Cancer Foundation: How Sunlight Damages the Eyes, 12/7/12

http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes

American Optometric Association: UV Protection

http://www.aoa.org/patients-and-public/caring-for-your-vision/uv-protection?sso=y

The Vision Council: Spare Your Sight

http://www.thevisioncouncil.org/sites/default/files/TVC_UV_Report2016.pdf