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Jan 25
Protect yourself and your loved ones from UV rays even after the holiday season

By: Lunga Memela (HST Communications Engagement Lead)

Welcome to Sunny South Africa! We are completing the first month of 2023: parents and learners have returned to queuing traffic, and while the holiday season is finished, it is not yet time to abandon our hats, sunglasses, chilled water bottles and sunscreen. This is according to the Skin Cancer Foundation, advising that it remains critically important not to let down our guard from protecting ourselves and our loves ones against the sun's ultraviolet radiation (UVR), not just in summer but year-round.

Passionate about empowering people to take a proactive approach to daily sun protection and the early detection and treatment of skin cancer, the Skin Cancer Foundation issues a stern warning that all risks associated with skin cancer should be mitigated with serious intent. "Skin cancer is the cancer you can see. Unlike cancers that develop inside the body, skin cancers form on the outside and are usually visible. That's why skin exams, both at home and with a dermatologist, are especially vital... Early detection saves lives."

Always be mindful of your sun exposure risk. The UV index (illustrated above) is a measure of the level of UV radiation. Read more from WHO:

Confronting climate change

The United Nations (UN) note that global temperatures are rising and that no corner of the globe is immune from the devastating consequences of climate change. Goal 13 of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. 

According to the UN, "Rising temperatures are fueling environmental degradation, natural disasters, weather extremes, food and water insecurity, economic disruption, conflict, and terrorism. Sea levels are rising, the Arctic is melting, coral reefs are dying, oceans are acidifying, and forests are burning. It is clear that business as usual is not good enough. As the infinite cost of climate change reaches irreversible highs, now is the time for bold collective action."

"The last four years were the four hottest on record. According to a September 2019 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report, we are at least one degree Celsius above preindustrial levels and close to what scientists warn would be 'an unacceptable risk'," says the UN.

Understanding ultraviolet radiation (UVR)

With a clear aim to reduce the burden of disease resulting from exposure to UVR, the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that small amounts of UVR are beneficial to health and play an essential role in the production of vitamin D. "However, excessive exposure to UVR is associated with negative health consequences as UVR is carcinogenic (having the potential to cause cancer) to humans."

WHO highlights that skin cancers are caused primarily by exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR), either from the sun or from artificial sources such as sunbeds. Simple and effective prevention measures are said to be available, but what must also be noted is that UVR affects not only the skin as an organ but also the eyes. "Acute effects of UVR include photokeratitis and photoconjunctivitis (inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva, respectively). These effects are reversible, easily prevented by protective eyewear and are not usually associated with any long-term damage but are painful and might require therapeutic intervention," says WHO.

WHO discourages the excessive sun exposure in children and adolescents as it may contribute to skin cancer in later life. "Sunburns in childhood lead to a higher risk of skin cancer in later life. Also, a larger amount of UVR can reach and damage their retina."

While WHO highlights that fair-skinned people suffer more from sunburn and have a higher risk of skin cancer than dark-skinned people, it also cautions that darker-skinned people develop skin cancers, and that consideration of eye damage is important for everyone. "Outdoor workers exposed occupationally to solar UVR levels face an increased risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancers."

Prevention is better than cure

WHO recommends the following measures to protect against excessive exposure to UVR:

  • Limit time in the midday sun.
  • Seek shade.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Wear a broad brimmed hat to protect the eyes, face, ears and neck.
  • Wear wraparound-style sunglasses that provide 99% to 100% UV-A and UV-B protection.
  • Use broad-spectrum sunscreen on skin areas that cannot be covered by clothes. Sun protection is best achieved by seeking shade and wearing clothes rather than applying sunscreens. Sunscreens should not be used for extending time spent in the sun.  
  • Avoid use of artificial tanning devices. Sunbed use increases the risk of developing skin cancers. Artificial tanning should never be considered as an option to achieve sufficient vitamin D status. Several countries have implemented legislation to ban or restrict the use of sunbeds.

A January 2023 infographic cautioning South Africans against heat stroke

Here is a link to the Extended 7-day UV Index Forecast Maps for Southern Africa.

Visit the South African Weather Service to stay informed about the latest weather warnings locally.


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