May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month. As sailors, we may be exposed to the sun for hours at a time, on the deck of the boat on beaches and taking part in a host of other watersports available. Luckily skin cancer, although one of the most common cancers is also one of the easiest to prevent and when it is detected – highly treatable. Here are some sun-safe practices to prevent Skin Cancer.
Our sun offers many health benefits and a 15 minute sunbath in the early morning, before 10, or evening after 4 is a great way to create Vitamin D in our bodies. Vitamin D offers many health benefits. It aids in the absorption of calcium and magnesium for bone health, reduces inflammation, boosts the immune system and modulates cell growth among other benefits. Prolonged exposure, however, can be harmful and we should take care.
Prevention is better than cure
Before you set sail on your Mediterranean sailing holiday, here are some prevention guidelines from the Skin Cancer Foundation.
- Stay in the shade, especially between 10 and 4
- Avoid tanning and UV tanning bed
- Do not burn
- Cover up with clothing, including a hat and good sunglasses that block UV rays
- Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher every day. The sun screen should block both UVA and UVB. While sailing or doing watersports, use a water-resistant sunscreen that is SPF of 30 or higher and re-apply often; or wear a UV blocking skinsuit.
- Keep newborn babies out of the sun and use sunscreen on babies over 6 months old
- Keep an eye on your skin, especially any moles or spots.
- Get a professional skin exam once a year
Burnt by the Sun
If you do happen to get burnt while sailing, there are few things you can do to treat sunburn:
- Immediately cool it down and get out of the sun. Carry on cooling the burn with cold compresses, without putting ice directly on the skin.
- Put moisturizing cream, that is not petroleum or oil-based, on while your skin is still damp
- Decrease Inflammation by taking anti-inflammatory medicine. Aloe Vera cream is a good product to pack on a sailing vacation, as it can soothe mild burns.
- Stay out of the sun
- Keep hydrated. Burns draw fluid away from the rest of your body to the skin’s surface.
- See a doctor if - you have bad blistering over a large part of your body, you have a fever, or you become confused.
Repeated sunburns put you at risk for premature aging and skin cancer.
Keep a lookout
The three types of skin cancer are: basal cell carcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and melanoma. Each has many different appearances.
Knowing the early warning signs can put you one step ahead. Look for changes of any kind in your skin. In general, some things to look out for are:
- A skin growth that increases in size and appears pearly, translucent, tan, brown, black, or multicoloured.
- A mole, birthmark, beauty mark, or any brown spot that changes color, size, texture, is bigger than 6mm, appears after the age of 21
- A spot or sore that continues to itch, hurt, crust, scab, erode, or bleed should also be checked.
Do not ignore changes or suspicious spots and if you notice one or more of the warning signs, see a doctor right away.
By Merryn Wainwright