Summer is here and what better time to enjoy the holidays than to go outside and soak up the warm African sun.

Strong words of warning though from the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA): “Have fun this summer, but be sensible.”

South Africa has the second highest incidence of skin cancer in the world after Australia. Skin cancer is also the most common cancer in South Africa! Each year CANSA steps up its skin cancer awareness communication through its SunSmart Campaign to remind South Africans of the dangers of over-exposure to the sun.

Skin cancer is the result of skin cell damage. There are two main categories of skin cancer – melanoma and non-melanoma. Melanoma is less common than non-melanoma cancers, but is the most dangerous.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the incidence of both non-melanoma and melanoma skin cancers has been increasing over the past decades. At least 20 000 South Africans are diagnosed each year with non-melanoma skin cancers and approximately 1 500 are diagnosed with melanoma. The WHO further estimates that a 10% decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300 000 non-melanoma and 4 500 melanoma skin cancer cases globally.

Everyone is at risk of getting skin cancer and should make protecting their skin a priority. People at high risk include those with:

  • Fair skin that burns easily in the un
  • Personal or family history of skin cancer
  • Lots of moles (that is more than 50)
  • Those being treated with immune-suppressive drugs

How to be safe in the sun:

  1. Use an effective sunscreen
  • SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor and is usually found on sunscreen bottles. It is a measure of how well it protects your skin against UV rays and indicates how long you could spend in the sun before burning when protected by sunscreen, compared to when you have no sunscreen on.
  • UV refers to ultraviolet light emitted by the sun. UV rays have disruptive effects on skin cells, which cause sunburn, and can result in skin cancer.
  • CANSA encourages the use of SPF 20 to 50.
  • The CANSA Seal of Recognition logo (CSOR) appears on approved sunscreen products and is a guarantee that the manufacturers of these UV protective products have complied with the strict set of criteria developed by CANSA.
  • Be sure not to use a product that has been opened and used after a year has passed.
  1. Apply sunscreen correctly
  • It’s important to know the best SPF for your skin-type.
  • Always apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and re-apply at least every two to three hours.
  1. Wear protective clothing
  • Wear sunglasses with a UV protection rating of UV400
  • Wear protective clothing and swimsuits and thickly-woven fabric hats with wide brims – avoid caps where the neck and ears are exposed. Look out for CANSA’s sing tags and SunSmart Choice logo on clothing, hats and summer fun accessories.
  • UPF is similar to the SPF indication on sunscreen, but is found on clothing. It indicates the Ultraviolet Protection Factor of clothing, sunglasses and hats to protect you against the UV rays of the sun.
  1. Avoid direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm.
  • Stay in the shade or under a UV protective umbrella as much as possible.

The key message from CANSA CEO, Elize Joubert, is that everyone is at risk of getting skin cancer. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, your skin type or where you live. It’s up to you to work to lower the skin cancer risk. Ensure you are protected in the sun, know your family history and skin type and do your monthly mole check.”

Finding skin cancer early is the best way to make sure it can be treated with success. Spot-the-spot is a term CANSA refers to when encouraging you to do self-examinations on your skin. It is important to keep track of marks, moles and spots on your skin and to make note of any changes. If you notice any of the warning signs identified by CANSA at, you need to see a doctor or dermatologist immediately.

For more smart fun in the sun advice, visit your local community Link pharmacist