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Feel the burn? Tips for sun-safe skin all year round

25 Jan 2019

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Sun smart tips

New Zealand has extremely high levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation. It’s caused by having lower levels of ozone in the southern hemisphere to block the sun’s rays, and the fact that the sun gets closer to the southern hemisphere during our summer months than it does in the northern hemisphere.

The resulting harsh conditions can cause skin and eye damage in minutes. As a result we have one of the world’s highest rates of melanoma, and it’s one of the most common forms of cancer in our country.

Sun burn at any age can increase your risk of skin cancer. Melanoma is potentially lethal – in recent years more New Zealanders died of it than died on our roads. So it’s hugely important to stay safe when you’re out and about over summer.

It’s all about prevention, avoiding the risks rather than relying on a cure in the future. And obviously there are some very basic precautions to take, mentioned every summer but worth repeating so they become a mantra.

Slip on a hat and shirt (long sleeve is best). Slop on some sun screen (at least SPF 30 to be safe, and broad spectrum too which covers UVA and UVB, which can both cause cancer). Slap on a hat (wide-brimmed gives you the best protection). Wrap on some sunnies (ensuring they deliver UV protection).

But here are some other lesser known things you could try:

Your skin needs the right food too

Diet plays a huge role in keeping our bodies healthy, including our skin. Certain foods are incredibly useful in terms of maintaining and protecting our skin, like carrots, tomatoes and other foods rich in lycopene (such as watermelon and papaya) plus Vitamins A or C. So why not whip up a few sun-smart salads this summer?

It’s all in the timing

The sun is most extreme between the hours of 10:00 and 3:00, and that’s when you need to exercise the most caution. Better still if you time your beach trip for outside these hours you tend to avoid the crowds. But if you are there at peak times, remember to bring an umbrella or sun shelter tent. Or at the very least, park yourself in a nice shady spot.

As a side note, NIWA have really useful information updated daily on the sun’s strength over summer at different times of the day. It’s handy to check when you’re planning your schedule.

Sunscreen - how much and how often?

To ensure you can get the full SPF protection from your sunscreen you need to apply 30 ml – about a shot glass worth at least (studies referred to in a story in The Guardian [1] show that many people don’t actually apply enough to get the full SPF benefit). You also need to apply it 30 minutes before you go out in the sun, so it properly bonds with your skin. Then reapply the same amount every two hours. And if you go swimming, towel yourself off, or start sweating lots, it pays to reapply again just to be doubly sure.

Be sensible with your clothes

When the sun’s at its height, it makes sense to get a bit more smart with your clothes. Long-sleeved tops, sarongs and wide-brimmed hats are fantastic in peak times as they’re cool, but also protect you. And the darker the clothing the better the protection. Maybe leave the bikini until later on.

After-sun treatments

If you do have a run-in with the sun, getting you skin feeling better as quickly and painlessly as possible is important. To ensure your skin has everything it needs to heal itself as fast as possible, stay out of the sun, drink plenty of water and seek out aloe vera or after-sun skin products which are loaded with vitamins and minerals.

So follow these steps to enjoy being out in the Kiwi sun, safely this year.


  1. You're not applying sunscreen right, scientists warn by The Guardian

Important things to know

Information correct as at January 2019