It's not just 'mad dogs and Englishmen' that go out in the midday sun! It's also Aussies who are mad. As a newspaper columnist, I receive media releases on a regular basis and one arrived last week that amazed - not to mention frightened - me.
Did you know that skin cancer claims 1200 lives a year and that skin cancer accounts for 75% all cancers diagnosed annually in Australia. These figures are from the Skin and Cancer Foundation Australia. We have the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world. And we don't know what damage we have done until it's fifteen years too late.
Unfortunately , the skin doesn't come with a radiation warning buzzer that says 'danger, danger, damage occurring', but that 's what's happening. Think of it as lying next to Chenobyl. The closer you lie to it and the longer you lie there, the more certain it is that you will be harmed. Would anyone knowingly do that - of course not - but in many ways that's what we and our babies and teenagers are doing.
I bet most people over thirty know someone who has had skin cancers burned off or has died from melanoma. ( By the way malignant melanoma is one of the most viscous cancers you can get - it's fast, and deadly). But we are so blase about it - having a skin cancers burned off should be treated with great respect - as a warning sign that you have done plenty of damage and need to stop NOW.
Now I know we all understand this at some intellectual level but it doesn't seem to have hit many of us at a behavioural level - in other words there are still millions of idiots lying flat out like lizards in the hottest parts of the day with most of their bodies exposed to one of the most virulent carcinogens known to us! See the sun as a nuclear waste dump.
Yesterday as research for this article, I visited a beach (someone has to do it) and spent several gruelling hours observing! Not only were people baking themselves but they had babies out there baking. There were two umbrellas on the beach - the small ones and one 'igloo'. Everyone else had oiled themselves up so they could crisp up and look 'healthy' for summer fashion.
Very smart. Never mind we our faces look like wrinkled old prunes and the rest of our skin looks like a 50 year old when we are thirty. Small details. This foundation had a great suggestion - look under your armpits. A sun free zone. How wrinkled, lined or freckled is it compared with the rest of your body? Why doesn't it compute that people from cold climates who don't see the sun much look twenty years younger than their counterparts here? and we could too. 10 year olds in Australia are now showing signs of wrinkle sun damage around their eyes.
Guess what? If you burn six or more times during youth, you have double the chance of developing malignant melanoma. Now when I was a child / adolescent they had invented sunscreen, but the best available was zinc cream or UV cream. Neither of which seem as sophisticated as the plethora of creams, potions and lotions available today. But zinc was probably as effective on the grounds nothing gets past zinc cream, even efforts to take it off!
Forget the 'healthy tan' stuff. The only healthy tan is when we use indoor tanning stuff and then it's still chemicals that we are adding to our poor polluted bodies.
Now for the really disturbing news, Dr de Launcey who is the Director of Medical Services at the Skin and Cancer Foundation (in Sydney) says sun screens are not enough. They're a good start but they are not enough. The skin still burns. And the skin DOES NOT HEAL. The radiation damage festers and pops out looking like an innocent freckle or mole that we ignore until it's too late. Then we take notice and stay out of the sun.
But wait, there's more. We can develop melanoma in the eye! Which usually involves removal of the whole eye. But of course, before we develop melanoma we can have cataracts, pterygiums or cancers close to the eye - all as a result of overexposure to the sun's harmful rays.
Do not ever leave the house again without your wraparound shades. And make sure they are good shades that cut out all the ultraviolet rays. Do not buy cheap sunglasses. Warning: children's eyes are no different from grown ups. ALL children should be wearing them and if their parents wear sunnies, the kids are far more likely to follow suit without grumbling. This means baby' s eyes too.
Just when you thought it was safe.....baseball caps are no good as sun protection. Especially when they are worn backwards. We all need full 9cm brim hats - or caps with those Lawrence of Arabia flaps at the back. And Akubra type hats that block all rays are the best. Forget the old straw or thin cloth fashion type that lets plenty of those skinny little rays penetrate through.
And sunshades that should go over pools and play areas- make sure they actually cut out the ultraviolet killers. Not some wossy thing that lets plenty of light through as well as the rays. Remember that there is shade, and shade. Some shade cuts out the sunlight but allows the harmful rays in just fine. So make sure you are in real shade.
Don't relax yet......clothes don't necessarily protect us! Research from the Foundation shows that some light weave T shirts have a protection factor as low as 4. Which becomes even worse when they become wet and stretched.
So now we have SPF - sun protection factor for creams (always go for 15+) and UVF - ultraviolet protection factor for clothing. Go for factor 30. When buying childrens bathers - those full length costumes are by far the best - but make sure you buy the genuine blockout articles - not the cheap thin look alikes. And stop wearing super skimpy bikinis - which really increase your chances of death. One pieces are the go; let your breasts and bottom be white - rather than not there at all!
Stop jogging without hats or shirts. Only if you have a brain and a desire to live! Stay out of the sun during the hottest part of the day. Lets think about children's play breaks at school - they need shade areas to play in - who rushes out at lunchtime and covers schoolkids in factor 15?
And for goodness sake have an annual skin check if you are over twenty or have freckles and moles or have skin. Watch your own skin - we do breast checks (or we should) , testicular checks (or we should) on a regular (ie monthly) basis, why not a skin check? Notice changes, bleeding, asymmetry, border irregularity , colour variation and if you have amole more than 6mm in diameter watch it carefully. Apparently, 60% of all melanomas are detected by the person or a relative - so start now and save yourself.
There is an epidemic of malignant melanoma. The cure really hurts. (If you catch it early enough, there's a cure) . The prevention is really simple.
And remember, just because it's a shady day doesn't mean you are safe - exactly the same rules apply. Good luck!