We all need protection from the sun, but people with Albinism are particularly vulnerable to sunburn. This is because of the reduction or absence of melanin in the body that they experience. Form the 1st to the 30th of September we celebrate Albinism Awareness Month and during this month, the Department of Health provides information on albinism to make people more of the condition and what it’s about.
People with Albinism can enjoy the outdoors by limiting their exposure to sunlight, wearing appropriate hats and clothing, and using sunscreens diligently. The areas most at risk are those where the skin is thinnest or often exposed, e.g. eyelids, nose, ears, lips, neck, backs of the hands and legs, and the head if a sun hat is not worn. Children with Albinism, especially babies, are very vulnerable and should be protected when they are out of doors or even sitting in a car as the sun’s harmful rays can pass through glass.
People with albinism are sensitive to glare, but they do not prefer to be in the dark, and they need light to see just like anyone else. Sunglasses or tinted contact lenses help outdoors. Indoors, it is important to place lights for reading or close work over a shoulder rather than in front. People who have albinism are faced with an increased risk of skin cancer. This is the result of the absence, or lack of melanin in the skin. In addition to higher than average risk of skin cancer, a person with albinism will find that he or she is at a higher risk of sunburn. To reduce this health concern, SPF 30 or higher sunscreens should be worn whenever outdoors. In addition, protective attire, such as hats, long pants and long-sleeved shirts should also be worn.
Here are a few skin and sun protection tips:
- Be sensible about sun protection. The level of precautions required partly depends on the time of year. Extra care should be taken when visiting very sunny locations.
- Harmful UV rays can penetrate glass and water. Ultraviolet rays can go through wet lightweight cotton T-shirts worn for swimming.
- Lips are particularly vulnerable to sunburn so do use a high factor lip screen too.
- Sunscreens marked ‘water resistant’ may slightly prolong protection, but the best advice is to reapply sunscreens often.
- Set a good example yourself by ensuring you and your family always wear sun hats when outside. Encourage your friends to wear hats also – start a trend.
- If buying off-the-shelf sunglasses choose some that absorb at least 95% of UV radiation; the wrap-around type can be effective. Buy from a reputable optician where good advice is available.
- Hats are essential! Those with wide brims and/or a flap at the back to protect the neck are ideal. Peaked caps are also a good method of reducing glare when outside, even on the not so sunny days.
- Long sleeve t-shirts are great and readily available as they are ‘trendy’ at the moment and come in some very attractive designs, also the longer length shorts for boys are appropriate.
People with Albinism can prevent serious problems arising from sunburn, and significantly reduce the risks of skin cancer, by taking sun protection seriously, and seeking advice from a doctor if any cause for concern arises.
Please do remember, people with Albinism can enjoy the outdoors by limiting their exposure to sunlight. Holidays in sunny locations are realistic providing sensible precautions are taken to protect the skin from sun damage.
A little food for thought, quite a few people who have the condition of albinism do not want to be called Albino’s. In certain countries this is used as a derogatory term, so whenever you meet or have to talk about these people we say ‘that person with albinism’. It is never appropriate to say ‘that person that suffers from Albinism’. Suffer is not a nice word, we have to remember these are normal people who live totally normal lives and enjoy every minute of it.
Enjoy the outdoors but remember to take care!