It took almost half a century for the health risks of cigarette smoking to be widely recognised. Sadly, some young people, especially young women, still take up smoking – probably because of peer pressure and issues related to low self esteem. Older smokers, who remain smokers, almost certainly do so because of nicotine addiction.
It appears that many Australians are also addicted to another form of high risk behaviour – that is: excess exposure to the sun.
Really wrinkly skin is one of the less than appealing side effects of excess sun exposure. This effect on our skin is confirmed, according to dermatologist Hugh Roberts, by the fact that those areas of our body most exposed to the sun (such as our face) become lined and wrinkled, whilst those areas least exposed (such as the buttocks) retain a smooth, wrinkle free texture well into old age.
Dr Roberts, who was speaking at the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (PSA) annual conference held in Melbourne last month, also talked about the more serious consequences of overexposure to the sun. Skin cancer, he said, the most common of all cancers, is almost always cause by overexposure to ultraviolet radiation – that is, sunlight. Generally, the cancer is caused by excessive childhood sunburn or by blistering sunburn even in older age groups.
Also, the adverse effects of sunlight on the skin are cumulative. The damage on and beneath the skin is building up, even without burning. Research undertaken by the Cancer Council and the Australian Department of Health and Ageing shows that it’s not just the day, or even several days, at the beach that causes the most sun damage to our skin. The many days spent involved with everyday activities, without adequate protection from the sun, might be even more dangerous. And with most states in Australia now “saving daylight”, there is the possibility we will have more usable leisure time in the sunshine.
Dr Roberts said that around 70% of Australians will have at least one skin cancer during their lifetime. It’s important, he said, that we are all aware of the best strategies to prevent skin cancers as well as early warning signs and symptoms so we can seek prompt and effective treatment.
It’s timely, therefore, that a new health education program has recently been launched to encourage all Australians to get to know their own skin. The Know Your Own Skin campaign is particularly aimed at people over 40 years of age who, due to previous sun exposure, are at significant risk of developing sun spots – known medically as solar (or actinic) keratoses. The program has been stimulated by new research which shows that whilst over 90% of Australians in the 40 plus age group have suffered from sunburn, more than a third don’t think they are at risk of sun damage because they currently avoid the sun and/or use sun protection.
Former Iron Man champion Guy Leech is the “face” (and body) of the education and awareness campaign and typifies the generation of Australians who grew up in the sunshine before the Slip, Slop Slap era and were never aware of the dangers of spending too much time in the sun.
In addition to Guy Leech a number of leading health care experts have been involved with the development of the campaign including consultant dermatologist Dr Stephen Schumack, who said at the campaign launch that all “baby boomers” should have an annual skin check to detect any early signs of skin cancer.
You can get more information about maintaining a healthy skin from High Wycombe Pharmacy. And don’t forget the routine use of an appropriate sunscreen on those exposed areas – including the backside, too, if necessary!