While Bing Crosby may sing his heart out about his White Christmas, those of us in the Southern Hemisphere experience a completely different kind of festive season. While our northern counterparts are hunkering down in for a cold winter, our Christmas is instead characterised by warm sunny days spent at the beach.
Unfortunately, this time of year also comes with an increased risk of something deadly serious: skin cancer.
As I’m sure most of us are aware, spending too much time unprotected in the sun can lead to a lot more than just a painful sunburn. It can lead to the formation of different kinds of skin cancer which if left untreated, can become deadly.
Thankfully, protecting yourself while outdoors is rather easy. So easy, in fact, that the Cancer Council of Australia (CCA) was able to boil it down to just five words: Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.
The first thing you should do before going out is to slip on a t-shirt or rash vest which will minimise the amount of bare skin that is exposed to the sun.
I’m sure some of you are already thinking about how this might affect that even tan you’ve been working on but is a tan really worth such a high risk?
Once you’re all dressed to go, the next step is to slop on some sunscreen, preferably one that’s been approved by the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA).
Sunscreen, like the name says, helps by either reflecting or absorbing harmful UV rays, thus reducing your risk of cancer.
When choosing a sunscreen, make sure to look at the sun protection factor (SPF) which measures the fraction of UV rays that reach the skin. For example, SPF 15 means 1/15 of UV rays will get through. CANSA recommends an SPF between 30 and 50.
Apply your sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside and reapply at least every two hours, after swimming or towling yourself off.
Step three is to slap a hat on your head. Your best bet is a hat with a wide rim that covers your entire head and neck. Like Step 1, the aim here is to minimise the amount of skin that is exposed to the sun.
So you’ve followed Steps 1 to 3 and have now arrived at your destination, ready for some summer fun. The next thing you should do is seek out a nice shady spot to set up camp.
If there’s no shady spot available, you can simply bring your own. Those fancy beach umbrellas aren’t just for show, after all.
CCA’s final step is to slide on a good pair of sunglasses. No, they aren’t trying to give you fashion advice.
Your eyes are just as vulnerable to UV rays as your skin and protecting them is very important. This is especially true at the beach where the pale sand is likely to reflect the sun’s rays right into your face.