It's crucial that people knew what to look for in sunscreen products in order to ensure that their protection was adequate.

Pretoria - South Africans have been urged to exercise extra caution when protecting themselves from the sun this summer.

According to Graham Anderson, principal officer at Profmed medical scheme, South Africa has one of the highest rates of malignant melanoma in the world.

Melanoma is a type of skin cancer that develops from the pigment producing cells. It spreads rapidly and can be fatal if it is not detected early.

There are four stages of melanoma and all require surgery.

“Melanoma is also a recurring disease and one would require regular follow-ups with a dermatologist or oncologist to ensure that the disease does not spread,” said Anderson.

Last year, it was found that one in four sunscreen products endorsed by the Cancer Association of SA (Cansa) were lacking when it came to offering adequate protection against the sun.

The latest report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projected that the global mean surface temperature would increase by between 0.3°C and 4.8°C by the end of the century, depending on future economic and technological development.

Anderson said since 2005, all sunscreens with the Cansa seal of recognition were required to give protection against UVA and UVB radiation in a ration of 0.4/1.

New research by Cansa found an increased correlation between UVA exposure and the onset of malignant melanoma or skin cancer, as well as non-optimal UVA protection provided by existing sunscreens.

“This has led to a worldwide demand for sunscreen with improved UVA protection properties,” said Anderson.

He said the potential implications of the finding were alarming since most skin cancers were caused by long-term exposure to the sun.

In light of that, he said it was crucial that people knew what to look for in sunscreen products in order to ensure that their protection was adequate.

Anderson said sunlight was made of UVA (which causes skin ageing) and UVB (which causes skin to burn).

He stressed that people should choose a sunscreen with both UVA and UVB protection and an SPF factor of 15 or higher.

However, because the ratio of this protection is still being disputed, he urged South Africans to take extra steps to protect themselves against UVA rays.

Anderson said some people easily spent up to six or more hours in the sun a day during the summer months.

He urged people to try as far as possible to stay in the shade between 10am and 4pm, or at least keep themselves covered, as that was the time when they were most exposed to harmful UV rays.

He warned that babies under the age of one should have no direct exposure to the sun. - Pretoria News