By KAYCEE REYES
Getting sunburnt? No big deal in the Philippines, when we are used to the sun all year long.
That is why it’s impossible to miss the lotions, sprays, clothing, and even supplements in the beauty aisle no matter what day of the year. But even if Filipinos are among the least susceptible to skin cancer in the world, according to the 2018 Skin Cancer Index score, melanoma (the deadliest form of skin cancer) is more fatal to non-Caucasians than any other group with the lowest survival rate, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Skin cancer has a lot to do with sunburn.
In a tropical country like ours, Filipinos are used to the heat, no matter what the season is. That is why most of us may have experienced getting sunburnt at least once in our lifetime. While for most, sunburns may appear as raw, burning skin that peels in a few days, it doesn’t always look that way. Sunburns may simply turn red or pink when exposed too long under the sun, or, for darker-skinned individuals, it may just feel itchy, dry, or soft to the touch. Also, while the skin may go back to normal after a short period of time, the effects of sunburn last longer than you think, posing a real potential risk for skin cancers. Regardless of how “normal” your skin looks after sun exposure, even if not done deliberately such as gardening or playing sports, regularly being under the sun not only makes you look older than you are (also called photoaging), but it can also ultimately increase your skin cancer risk. It is true that one’s susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers can vary with race and genetics. But even if one is born with a lower risk, it does not make one immune from it. The environment and one’s lifestyle plays a part as well. Some organizations, such as Cancer Research UK, say that getting sunburn just once in every two years, can increase your risk of melanoma three-fold. Others like the Skin Cancer Foundation say that all it takes is just one blistering sunburn in your childhood to double the risk of melanoma in adulthood and that having five or more sunburns in your lifetime makes you twice at risk as well. While these incidences may be debatable, one thing is for sure—every sunburn you get increases the likelihood of skin cancer.
Regardless of how ‘normal’ your skin looks after sun exposure, even if not done deliberately, such as while gardening or playing sports, being under the sun on a regular basis not only makes you look older than you are (also called photoaging), but it can also ultimately increase your skin cancer risk.
This is because sunburn is the body’s way of protecting itself from the sun. Sunburn is caused by excessive exposure to UV (ultraviolet) light. Even when it is cloudy, as much as 80 percent of UV rays may still penetrate and burn the skin. When your skin gets exposed for too long, the body senses it and protects the cells with melanin, the body’s natural sunscreen. But in truth, the UV rays may have already penetrated the skin to the cellular level even before experiencing the sunburn itself. That burning feeling you feel or the redness that you see is your body’s way of repairing the mutation that the UV rays have caused. After some time, some of these cells go back to their healthy state, while others are being removed by the body and that is what is usually seen as the skin peeling days after the sunburn. Still, some of the mutations in the skin stay, and years later, they can multiply and develop into skin cancer. So do not wait to feel the heat before you slather some ‘screen.
Everybody knows how important sunscreen is, and yes, even if you spend most of your days indoors. You can choose between physical and chemical sunscreens, in spray or lotion form, but more than slathering sunscreen on is avoiding the sun during peak hours, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and placing extra protection for your skin by covering up with clothing, hats, and sunglasses. There are some medications that make you more sun sensitive, such as antihistamines or antidepressants, so you may want to discuss those with your doctor. Australia, where the highest incidence of skin cancer is found, launched a successful campaign in the ’80s called Slip! Slop! Slap! that is still sound advice to this day: “Slip on a shirt, Slop on the sunscreen, and Slap on a hat.” It has since then added two more actions, to “Seek shade, and Slide on sunglasses.”
Even if our darker skin color makes us less susceptible to sunburn than others, constant sun exposure does not save anyone from having skin cancer. So protect yourself well, even if you don’t feel the heat!