Summer brings with it the dangers of added exposure to the sun and outdoors, exposure which can lead to skin damage and the possible risk of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is an all-too-common form of cancer in Australia, with the incidence in this country being among the highest in the world, and two to three times higher than the rates found in Canada, the United States and Britain.
One way to reduce skin cancer risks is to avoid sunburn which causes 95 per cent of melanomas. In Australia, almost 14 per cent of adults, 24 per cent of teenagers and 8 per cent of children are sunburnt on an average summer weekend.
While many people are sunburnt taking part in water sports and activities at the beach or a pool, gardening or having a barbeque present just as many dangers. Sunburn is also common on cooler or overcast days and you can still be sunburnt when the temperature is cool.
For the best protection, we all should:
- Slip on sun-protective clothing that covers as much of our skin as possible.
- Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen 20 minutes before we go outdoors and then every two hours afterwards.
- Slap on a hat that protects the face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade.
- Slide on sunglasses that meet Australian Standards.
The slip, slop, slap, seek and slide message may seem obvious but often we are confused as to which products are best for which conditions and this is where your pharmacists and staff at a community pharmacy can provide invaluable advice on choosing the right sunscreen.
Your community pharmacist and staff also can advise on how to use the products correctly as most people don’t apply enough sunscreen, resulting in only 50-80 per cent of the protection stated on the product.
Your community pharmacy can also help you if you think you may have a problem with your skin and the sooner a skin cancer is identified and treated, the better. Becoming familiar with the look of your skin, so that any changes that might suggest a skin cancer are recognised is an important step. Signs to be aware of include:
- any crusty, non-healing sores;
- small lumps that are red, pale or pearly in colour; and
- new spots, freckles or any moles changing in colour, thickness or shape over a period of weeks to months (especially those dark brown to black, red or blue-black in colour).
If you notice any changes consult your community pharmacist or doctor as soon as possible. If your pharmacist suspects there may be an issue they will refer you immediately to your doctor for further advice and consultation.