UNfun in the sun

February 4, 2022

Dr. Tonétha Jay talks to us about skin cancer and how the unrelenting African sun may unleash havoc on your skin.

Basal and squamous cell skin cancers are some of the most common types of skin cancer. Dr. Tonétha Jay, Plastic and Reconstructive surgeon at Busamed Paardevlei Private Hospital says these common skin cancers are based on complex genetics and histological subtype. “Suffice to say, we are grateful that malignant melanoma is not at the top of the list.”

Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer. It develops in the melanocytes (cells) that produce melanin — the pigment that gives your skin its color.

According to Dr. Jay, skin cancer awareness in the general public still suffer the persistent myth that we need only wear sunscreen on sunny days and when we are exposed to direct sunlight. She says UV rays are strong and reflect into indoor spaces as well. “Unfortunately, a lot of the electromagnetic spectrum waves are not visible to the naked eye. Most sunscreens only provide protection against UVB rays anyway. This is why a sunscreen should be applied even if you’re going to be in shaded areas.” She adds that damaging UVA rays may still penetrate through sunblock. “On cloudy days and even in the shade we are still bombarded with electromagnetic spectrum waves or rays. In this case, a sunblock and a hat is more ideal.”

Dr. Jay says darker complexioned people are also at risk for skin cancer and that it’s a myth that only light skinned people develop skin cancer. “Acral melanoma has a 62 percent mortality in darker skinned individuals of African descent.” Acral melanoma may be deceptively present under the sole of the foot or the palm of the hand. “Remember, moles and freckles may seem innocuous, yet could be lethal.”

Typically lighter complexioned individuals with particularly light eyes (usually caucasian and people with albinism) are at high risk of skin cancers. Dr. Jay advises skin cancer screenings to ensure that any abnormalities that could be malignant are caught early. “Early detection does save lives.”

She says she reminds patients that the skin is an organ which functions to remove waste and keep the body cool through its pores. Social media promoted skin care routines that profess being able to “shrink our pores” for a porcelain looking face, for example, are total hogwash. Dr. Jay says nothing substitutes general good hygiene and management of hormone levels for great looking skin.

Dr Tonetha Jay
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