For a country located just one degree north of the equator, it’s no surprise that Singapore experiences year-round high temperatures and humidity. This makes it crucial for residents and visitors alike to take precautions against the sun‘s harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays. In recent years, UV levels in Singapore are increasing and the harmful effects of sun damage are also becoming more evident.
UV levels in Singapore
The Tropic of Cancer runs through Singapore, which means that the city-state experiences 12 hours of daylight from the sun all year round.
The UV Index is an international standard of measurement of the level of UV radiation. It ranges from 0 to 11+ (low to extreme). In Singapore we average around 6 to 9 on the UV Index. However, it has been known to reach ‘extreme’ levels at 15. For example, in July 2018, readings showed that the UV index reached 15 twice—a level considered “extreme” by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
As overexposure to UV rays is a leading cause of skin cancer, these statistics should not be overlooked.
Potential damage of excessive sun exposure
Skin cancer risks are determined by your skin type (the fairer you are, the higher the risk), family history, the number of moles you have (unfortunately the higher the risk) and the degree of sun exposure throughout your life.
In general, skin cancer risks are determined by a number of factors:
- Skin type – There is lesser protective pigment called melanin in fair skin, hence the fairer you are, the higher the risk
- Family history – Skin cancers can be hereditary and there is an increased possibility of developing the disease if one or more close biological relatives have been diagnosed
- Number of moles – You have a higher risk of skin cancer if you have a large number of moles, and especially if they are bigger or less symmetrical
- Degree of sun exposure throughout your life – Sun exposure is cumulative and experiencing more than five sunburns throughout your life can double your risk of skin cancer
Over 80% of skin cancer are considered preventable by reducing UV radiation exposure. Melanomas can spread quickly and is responsible for up to 90% of skin cancer deaths. The positive news is that if detected and treated early, it has a 95% survival rate at 5 years.
Other common skin cancers are basal cell carcinomas (BCCs) and squamous cell carcinomas (SCCs).
Prevention of excessive sun exposure
Given the dangers posed by extended sun exposure, it’s essential when living in Singapore to take steps to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays whenever possible. What can you do to protect yourself?
- Quit smoking – smoking is a risk factor for SCCs
- Minimise ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and tanning beds
- Ensure you have adequate sun protection before your outdoor activities
- Choose a sunscreen that is broad spectrum – anti UVA and anti UVB
- The SPF index depends on your skin type. The fairer you are, the higher the SPF index but it is not necessary to choose an SPF over 50. Well applied SPF 50 blocks 98% of UVB versus 99% with SPF 100.
- Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before going out
- Always apply sunscreen before any insect repellent
- Watch for changes in your moles or skin texture that do not seem to heal well – potential skin cancer can present as a progressive lump, nodule, ulcer and may bleed
- Pay particularly attention to moles or skin lesions that are difficult to see – back of legs, back, between toes, behind ears, scalp
- Have regular skin checks with a trained professional. Depending on your risk factors, skin checks can be as often as every three months!
- Check your vitamin D levels. A low vitamin D level has been shown to increase your risk of skin cancer.
When should you see a doctor?
Here are some signs to look out for before consulting a professional:
- An existing mole that changes shape or colour over time
- New moles that are not uniform in shape and colour, especially ones that appear after the age of 35 years old
- A new growth or sore that doesn’t heal after several weeks
- Itching, redness, tenderness, or pain in an area of skin that was recently exposed to sunlight
When identified and treated early, skin cancers are highly curable. In the early stages of skin cancer development, you’re in a prime position to notice any peculiar skin changes. However, some parts of your body may be harder to check independently, such as the tops of your ears or your upper back. Hence, if you have any concerns, do visit your General Practitioner (GP) who can quickly assess all your skin and provide a better judgement.
Let Osler Health International help you
Regardless of the condition, early detection is always key to successful treatment. At Osler Health, our doctors can give you a skin check up and advise any further treatments as and when required. If you suspect overexposure to the sun has caused your skin to change and you wish to check if there are any underlying issues, do make an appointment with us today. Don’t wait to get it checked out.
Located in Star Vista and Raffles Hotel Arcade, our clinics are convenient for anyone in Singapore to reach and easy to travel to via public or private transport. For readers interested in finding out more on relevant news and medical advice from the doctors at Osler Health, do visit our news website for more helpful information.