Skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders. This is partly due to the fact that in New Zealand we have skies that are clear and low in pollution, which results in especially high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. We are also closer to the sun in summer, have some very fair skin types and love being outdoors!
Too much UV radiation can cause skin cancers, including deadly melanoma. Fortunately, you can be SunSmart by protecting yourself and your family from too much UV radiation while still enjoying our great kiwi outdoor lifestyle. All you need to do is Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap. It is also important to avoid exposure to UV radiation from tanning devices such as sunbeds. With weather that is very changeable – rain or cloud one minute and sun the next - it is important to be SunSmart all year round and especially so between 10am and 4pm during daylight savings months (September to April).
While skin cancer is the most common cancer affecting New Zealanders, the good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented by being sun safe – i.e. by reducing exposure to the sun when ultraviolet radiation is most intense, and by never getting sunburnt. It is also important for skin changes (e.g. moles) to be checked as soon as they appear because most skin cancers can be successfully treated if detected early enough.
How to protect yourself from the sun
To protect yourself from the sun, SunSmart recommends you Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap:
Slip into a shirt and clothing that offers good protection from the sun e.g., a long-sleeve top with a collar and lightweight trousers or long shorts. Some fabrics have an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating that shows how effective the fabric is at blocking out UV radiation, but clothing does not need to be specialised to be SunSmart. Generally, fabrics with a tighter weave and darker colours offer greater protection from the sun. Also, slip into some shade, especially between the hours of 10am and 4pm during daylight savings months (September to April) when the UV levels are highest.
- Slop on plenty of broad-spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen before going outdoors. Apply a thick layer over your skin at least 15 minutes before going outdoors.
- Reapply sunscreen every two hours as well as after physical activity, sweating, swimming or towel drying.
- Don’t just rely on sunscreen as your only form of sun protection – clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and hats provide better protection.
- Sunscreen should not be used as a way to stay out in the sun longer. Instead, use it as a way to reduce the risk of damage to the skin when exposure to the summer sun is unavoidable.
- Keep an eye on the expiry date of your sunscreen – throw it away if it’s past the expiry date.
- Keep sunscreen in handy places where you and other people are most likely to be reminded to use it e.g., by the door at home or work, or in your swimming bag, sports bag or handbag.
Slap on a hat with a wide brim or a cap with flaps. More people get sunburnt on the face and neck than any other part of the body, so a good hat is important.
Wrap on a pair of sunglasses. Choose close fitting, wrap-around glasses that cover your eye area and protect the sensitive skin around them.
Take particular care when taking children out in the sun as their skin burns very easily. Limit the amount of time that children spend in the sun between 10am and 4pm.
Vitamin D and sun exposure
For information about Vitamin D and sun exposure, visit the Ministry of Health website to read their consensus statement.