Sun protection a must in NZ

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Our children deserve great summer memories, not a legacy of skin cancer in later years, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro

Last week, when writing about outdoor summer fun for the little ones, I touched briefly on sun protection.

Delving into that further in the past week, I discovered we have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world with almost 2500 new melanoma cases diagnosed each year - four of them children.

At the height of summer, children burn more easily here than, for example, anywhere in the Mediterranean, so the advice to "slip on a shirt and into the shade, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a broad-brimmed hat and wrap on a pair of sunglasses'' is very apt.

All four are needed for best protection, with sunscreen needing to be correctly and regularly applied. It should be at least SPF30+, UVA/UVB broad-spectrum and water resistant.

I next discovered how sunscreens actually work. They contain UV reflectors such as zinc oxide and UV absorbers that absorb UV radiation and turn it into low-level heat. Some of the chemicals absorb the UVB part of the spectrum, which causes sunburn and contributes to skin cancer risk. Others absorb the longer UVA wavelengths, which penetrate deeper and are believed to compromise the immune response to damage to our DNA.

As it's only a screen, not a block, the sun will still get through. The sun protection factor gives an indication of how dense that screening is. The higher the SPF, the more effective the screening. For example, an SPF of 30 allows 1/30, or 3.3%, of UV to reach our skin, meaning it filters 96.7% of UV. Therefore, with an SPF of 50, 98% is filtered and 1/50, or 2%, gets through.

Most sunscreens recommend reapplying every two hours. The advice is to apply a teaspoonful per limb, and a teaspoon each for face, front and back.

I also discovered that things can be as nasty in the sun as on the road. The annual sun toll, at over 400, is greater than the annual road toll and yet we seem to get more agitated about the latter than we do the former. What's more, minimising the sun risk is so much easier because it's entirely in our own hands to do so.

Our children deserve great summer memories, not a legacy of skin cancer in later years.

So keep them and yourself safe now and for their future. When the UV index is three or higher, during September to April between 10am and 4pm, even on cloudy or overcast days, activate the Slip, Slop, Slap and Wrap protection.

They can get sunburnt in little more than the time it takes to apply sunscreen and put on protective gear.

 

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