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How to manage sunburnt skin
Sunburn is your body’s reaction to excessive exposure to UV radiation, as the top layers of your skin release chemicals that cause your blood vessels to expand, leading to pain, inflammation and redness. If you are not protected from the sun, UV radiation will immediately start to penetrate deep into the layers of your skin and damage the cells. In as little as 11 minutes, your skin turns red and may start to peel, which is the body’s way of shedding damaged cells that could become cancerous.
The symptoms of sunburn can last for days or weeks, although the effects last forever. All sunburns cause irreversible damage that fast-tracks the ageing process and increases your risk of skin cancer. You should seek emergency medical treatment if you experience:
Manage the symptoms of sunburn by:
How to use sunscreen
You should wear sunscreen every day, even if you have dark skin or do not burn easily. Some sunscreens work by creating a physical barrier that prevents UV radiation from touching your skin. Others contain chemicals that deactivate UV radiation, preventing it from damaging your skin cells. Remember that sunscreen does not offer complete protection from the sun, and you need to use it in conjunction with other methods, such as protective clothing and shade.
There is a grading system that indicates the degree of protection provided by a sunscreen, called the sun protection factor (SPF). A higher SPF provides more sun protection. It is recommended that you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen no less than SPF 30+, which means only 1/30th of the UV radiation can get through to your skin. No sunscreens can protect against 100 percent of UV radiation.
The SPF can be greatly reduced if the sunscreen is applied incorrectly. Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before you go outside and re-applied every two hours, or sooner if you are sweating or swimming. Adults should apply at least one teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, leg, and front and back of body, and ½ a teaspoon to their face, neck and ears.
Are you aged 40 or over?
Over 90 percent of people diagnosed with melanoma are older than 40. However, skin cancer effects people of all ages. In fact, melanoma is the most common cancer in Australians aged 15 to 39. It is estimated that 2,500 Australians aged 25-49 will be diagnosed with the disease this year.
Have you had multiple sunburns that resulted in blistering or peeling?
If you have had multiple sunburns that blistered or peeled, your risk of developing skin cancer doubles. Men are at a greater risk of getting the disease, with one in 14 men and one in 24 women expected to develop melanoma sometime in their life.
Do you have pale skin, fair hair or blue eyes?
Due to lack of skin pigmentation, Caucasian populations are at high risk of getting skin cancer. If you have fair skin, blue eyes, or light or red hair, you are in the highest risk group. However, skin cancer effects people of all ethnicities, no matter their skin colour.
Do you have a large number of freckles or moles on your body?
You have an increased risk of melanoma if there are multiple freckles or moles on your skin. It is important to get your skin checked frequently by your doctor, since early detection offers the best survival rate. Five Australians die every day from melanoma.
Has anyone in your family had melanoma?
While most skin cancers result from sun exposure, some melanomas develop due to an inherited gene. Your risk may be higher if someone in your family has had melanoma.
Have you had a melanoma or another type of skin cancer before?
You are at higher risk of developing further skin cancers if you have had one previously. A history of skin cancer indicates that your skin might be prone to the disease, usually from excessive sun damage or due to a genetic disposition.
Do you have any skin spots that look different to the others?
A mole could be a melanoma if it is changing in size, shape or colour, or looks different to the others on your body. It is important to become familiar with your own skin and notice any sores that won’t heal, small red or white lumps, or new freckles that appear or change over weeks or months.
Do you work outdoors or frequently enjoy outdoor activities?
If you work outdoors, or are often outside, you are exposed to the sun’s UV light, which permanently damages your skin cells and causes irreversible harm that can lead to skin cancer. UV light is responsible for 90 percent of all skin cancers. In Australia, one in eight adults and one in five teenagers are sunburnt on an average summer weekend.
Do you bleed easily, even with very little abrasion?
A sign of skin cancer is easy or persisting bleeding, even from small abrasions on your body. For example, a small scratch on your skin might bleed when you towel off after a shower, or you might have lingering bleeding from your face after shaving.
Have you used a solarium bed to tan your skin?
Studies have shown that using a solarium before the age of 35 increases your risk of melanoma by 59 percent, because the UV radiation emitted from solariums is six times stronger than the midday sun.
However, it is important to regularly self-assess your skin and get thorough head-to-toe skin checks by a skilled physician at least once a year. Skin cancer can affect anyone of any skin type and can occur anywhere on the body, often showing no symptoms until an advanced stage.
Answering ‘yes’ to at least one question means you are part of the high-risk group and it is possible that you will develop skin cancer in your life time. It is recommended that you see your doctor for regular check-ups at least once a year. The key to successful skin cancer treatment is early detection.
A head-to-toe skin check with a skilled doctor is the only way to know your skin is healthy. For your peace of mind continue to get regular check-ups at least once a year. Ninety-five percent of all skin cancers are curable if found early.
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