What the Skin Cancer Capital of the World has Taught Me
"When we moved to the USA in 2017 I was shocked to discover the lack of understanding and awareness of the need to protect your skin against the harmful effects of the sun."
I was born and raised in Australia. Australia ranks number 1 in the world for Skin Cancer with roughly 33 in every 100,000 Australians developing melanomas in their lifetime. The USA ranks 17 with 12 in every 100,000.*
Australia’s Cancer Council started the Slip Slop Slap campaign in 1981, actually before I was born. I’ve always known to slip on a shirt, slop on sunscreen and slap on a hat. Those words have been ingrained in my brain since I was a baby. Since that time it has grown to include seek shade, and slide on sunglasses. The success of the campaign has contributed to the rate of melanoma in young people to fall 5 per cent each year from the mid-1990s to 2010.**
When we moved to the USA in 2017 I was shocked to discover the lack of understanding and awareness of the need to protect your skin against the harmful effects of the sun. Back in Australia, we are used to a no-hat, no-play policy at schools, where school kids are required to wear a broad-brimmed hat in the playground, or remain in a shaded area. As a family we struggled to grasp the number of athletes and people in general getting around shirtless or hatless.
"Unfortunately, training and racing our sport involves plenty of time exposed to the sun."
Triathlon Australia has required that athletes have covered shoulders, back, and stomach throughout a race for many years – the same as the International Triathlon Union. It was certainly surprising to see athletes competing old-school style in just speedos (tip for guys reading this – it’s not a good look either!). So finding a company like Tri Sirena who produces sun protective clothing that looks amazing as well was a real blessing here in the USA.
Unfortunately, training and racing our sport involves plenty of time exposed to the sun. When we are training, we have the opportunity to stop every two hours and reapply sunscreen, but this becomes more problematic on race-day. In races over two hours, it is pretty much guaranteed that any sunscreen that is applied before the swim will be washed off through water and sweat by the time you cross the finish line. If stopping to apply and re-apply sunscreen in transition isn’t an option, and there are no volunteers applying sunscreen to sweaty athletes, options such as zinc or sun-sleeves are a way to mitigate the risk of over exposure to the sun.
Things that I try to keep in mind that I can control to protect my skin include:
- Annual skin checks
- Stay out of the sun during the most extreme sun hours (who likes training in the middle of the day anyway!)
- Slip, slop, slap, and slide when outside in the sun – when you can’t seek shade
- Reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after being in water
- Teaching our children the importance of sun protection
Nothing is better than staying out of the sun altogether, but in our sport the sun tends to be an unavoidable consequence. If we can all take steps to protect our skin and prevent sun exposure our community will be much better for it.
Written By: Caetlin Watch, Tri Sirena Siren Luminary
Follow Caetlin on Instagram @thespinningwatchs
How do you stay safe in the sun? Tell us about it in the comments below!