By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
While at least 85 percent of Mexicans are aware that exposure to the sun can lead to skin cancer, less than 11 percent use sunscreen on a regular basis, according to the Mexican Dermatology Foundation (FMD).
“That number is significantly lower than the comparable figure in other developed parts of the world,” said FMD president Rossana Janina Llergo Valdéz, speaking at a press conference on the importance of using protection against solar ultraviolet rays.
“In Australia, Europe and the United States, the comparable figure is between 37 and 55 percent, and in Japan, the figure is 17 percent.”
“People in Mexico still have the misconception that sunscreen is something they should use when they go to the beach,” added Abraham Benjamín Alfaro Sánchez, head of the Mexican Dermatology Academy (AMD), who also spoke at the conference.
“In fact, you get far more UVA and UVB exposure in Mexico City than at the beach because you are closer to the sun. Altitude can make a big difference.”
In Cuzco, Peru, for example, with an elevation of about 3,400 meters, residents are exposed to 60 percent more UV rays than Peruvians living at sea level. Mexico City has an altitude of 2,240 meters about sea level.
Llergo Valdéz said that it is important to get the message out to Mexicans to use sunscreen and sun blocks every day, and to reapply throughout the day, because skin cancer is on the rise in this country.
In fact, skin cancer is the most common type of cancer worldwide, and, according to statistics from the National Social Security Institute (IMSS), the incidence of the disease in Mexico has increased from just 2 percent to a whopping 7 percent in just the last decade.
Environmental changes are also a factor.
As ozone levels are depleted, the atmosphere loses more and more of its protective filter function and more solar UV radiation reaches the earth’s surface.
Just 10 percent decrease in ozone levels will result in an additional 300,000 non-melanoma and 4,500 melanoma skin cancer cases each year.
To encourage more Mexicans to use photoprotection measures, the FMD and AMD, in conjunction with the Mexican Dermatology Society (SMD) and the National Chamber of Cosmetic Industries (Canipec), will be offering free consultations and information seminars on Sunday, March 15 — National Sun Protection Awareness Day — in front of Mexico City’s Angel of Independence from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with certified medical specialists explaining what are the early signs of skin cancer and how it can be prevented.
There will also be similar free sun protection awareness centers set up in Veracruz, Veracruz (at the Veracruz University School of Medicine), on Saturday, March 21, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; in Villahermosa, Tabasco (in the Parque de la Choca), on Sunday, March 22, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.; in Guadalajara, Jalisco (on the corner of Avenida Ludwig von Beethoven and Independencia), on Sunday, March 22, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and in Monterrey, Nuevo León (at the Centro San Pedro Joven), on Wednesday, March 25, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Skin cancer is, for the most part, preventable,” said SMD president Angélica María Belrana Palencia.
“And if it is detected early, it is almost always treatable.”
But because the disease does not usually appear until a person is in their late 40s or older, many young Mexicans don’t consider the use of sunscreen as a crucial concern.
“The fact of the matter is that sun exposure is accumulative,” Belrana Palencia said.
“A full 70 percent of the radiation a person is exposed to during their lifetime occurs during the first 18 years of life.”
Even a mild sunburn in childhood can double the risk of getting skin cancer later in life.
There are numerous options available in the way of sunscreens and sun blocks, with both chemical and mineral bases that come in creams, gels, foams and sprays, and there are also oral protection pills with vitamins A, C and E that can help shield your skin from the sun’s rays, Llergo Valdéz pointed out.
As long as your sun screen has a broad spectrum coverage of between 30 and 50 percent, she said, it will be effective in protecting your skin.
“But remember it has to be applied generously and reapplied every three or four hours,” she said.