This beautiful country is our playground. On the beach, at the bach, on the boat – we like to make the most of those lazy hazy summer daze.
We’re Kiwis. So of course we love the sun.
Unfortunately, judging by the ⅔ of us who will get skin cancer in our lifetime – in some cases, tragically fatal – we seem to confuse “get some Vitamin D” with “get some Melanoma.” While men have a higher rate, women are also at risk and every year more than 300 of us die from it.
This clearly is a problem.
Why Kiwis get Melanoma, in 30 seconds.
The universe is a dangerous place. One of those dangers is UV radiation from the sun. Human skin has inbuilt protection (i.e. such as melanin) to shield the inner layers from this.
However, New Zealand, with its clear skies and less ozone protection overhead provides a challenge, especially for those of Northern European ancestry, with fairer skin. We simply didn’t evolve for this harsh antipodean environment.
UV slams into your skin like bullets (soothing, warming, nap-inducing bullets) where it disrupts DNA, causing cells to mutate. Sometimes that mutation results in uncontrolled growth, and a skin cancer is born.
The good news is that, like any newborn, a newly spawned cancer is usually quite harmless. But babies quickly grow and become sneaky, invasive, destructive little tornados. The trick with melanoma, then, is to nip it in the bud early with easy treatments like mole removals.
So here are the three easy tips.
1 Know Your Enemy
Simply understanding what you’re looking for can be one of the best early defences. Picked up in its early stages, melanoma has a 98% survival rate. In late stages, it’s more like 15% (DermEngine Global data 2018.)
A quick regular self check guide is on our website – anything suspicious, you should immediately get looked at by your dermatologist, or skin cancer specialist. Otherwise, an annual full skin check, and ideally a full mole map, should be the minimum preventative measures to identify and treat any problems.
2 Go For Cover
One of the most basic rules of defence is to not expose yourself.
When the sun is overhead, the UV assault is at its worst. Even if you can’t feel it (beware a cool breeze!) it easily penetrates your skin’s normal armour, going beyond a fetching tan or vitamin D.
Wear a hat, a shirt, stay in the shade wear a good sunblock – NZ Skin Health recommends zinc oxide based ones, with no nasties like oxybenzone. (Oxybenzone can cause allergic reactions, and once in the ocean it damages coral – countries like Hawaii have banned it for this reason.)
3 Coordinate Your Attack
The enemy (UV), is a complex opponent, and so is your body, so let’s keep this simple.
UV is broken into the stronger UVB, which has the power to smash DNAs; and the weaker UVA – which doesn’t quite penetrate DNA, but it does have enough energy to break down other molecules, producing “free radicals,” which you’ve probably heard of. Free radicals oxidise or disrupt DNA in much the same way UVB light does.
We can also get free radicals from a poor diet: deep fried food, too much red meats (sorry!) and even soft drinks and alcohol are culprits. In other words, even your diet can increase your chances of melanoma.
Fortunately, you can counter this in three ways.
First – improve the diet. In New Zealand we have easy access to plenty of healthy food choices. Simply eating a better diet can eliminate a lot of the free radicals in your body.
Second – include antioxidants in your diet. These foods help neutralise free radicals, hopefully before they have a chance to do any damage. (Antioxidants have the added advantage of helping you look younger for longer!)
Antioxidants like Vitamin E, C, Carotenoids and Bioflavenoids are present in foods like broccoli, dark leafy greens, citrus, dark berries, and even some in red wine (although remember, alcohol is the enemy!)
Third – your own immune system. Immune health starts in the gut. Probiotics, acidophilus yoghurts, bone broths, kefir or kombucha, fresh sauerkraut, and so on can help keep your gut healthy. A healthy body can not only repair damaged dna, but fight mutant cells, effectively stopping cancer before even the best of us can detect it visually.
And yes, finally, you do need some vitamin D from sunshine; along with fresh air, exercise, quality rest, and time to de-stress. So make sure you enjoy what you’ve worked so hard for!
Enjoy the summer … here’s to your good health!
Give NZ Skin Health a call on 09 533 4141 and we can guide you further, or discuss any of the points covered above.