Kiwis, we need to get better at using enough sunscreen! According to SunSmart information, only 50% of New Zealanders use sunscreen, and fewer than half of those people reapply it. That means less than 25% of us are using enough sunscreen, even though our nation has one of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world.
Sunscreen is vital for avoiding sunburn, skin damage, and skin cancer. But you can’t just put it on once in the morning and then forget about it. Here’s what you need to do.
When to apply and reapply
Before going outside
On any day, you can check the current UV level on the NIWA website. If it’s UV level 3 or higher, you need plenty of sunscreen! You can also check the UV forecast on the NIWA forecast website by clicking on your town in the list. The diagrams predict what UV levels will reach at specific times of the day and give a maximum UV level for sunny and cloudy skies.
Put on sunscreen (slop):
- Apply at least 20 minutes before going outside. It takes sunscreen 20 minutes to “sink in” and form a proper barrier against the sun.
- Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen of at least SPF30+ or higher. If you apply it correctly, SPF30 filters 96.7% of UV radiation and SPF50 filters 98% of UV radiation. Broad spectrum means it needs to block out both UVB (skin burning rays) and UVA (skin ageing rays).
- Use 7 teaspoons (35mL) of sunscreen.
- Put on a lip balm with sunscreen. (The sun can burn or chap your lips, causing skin damage and skin cancer on your lips. Sunburn can also “wake up” any cold sores on your lips.)
Also put on a hat (slap) and clothing to cover as much of your skin as possible (slip) and a pair of UV protection sunnies (wrap).
Out and about
Reapply your sunscreen:
- Every two hours.
- After swimming or sweating – even if your sunscreen says it’s waterproof and good for four hours!
- Reapply more often when you’re around highly light-reflective surfaces like water, snow, sand, or low clouds.
As SunSmart Schools points out, water offers only a tiny bit of protection from UV radiation, and the reflection from water can actually increase the UV radiation hitting your skin and eyes.
Don’t think sunscreen means you can stay out in the sun for longer – it is just one way of reducing your risk of skin damage.
Caring for your skin if you get sunburnt
- Drink plenty of water to rehydrate.
- Take a cool shower or bath – not a spa – or gently apply cool, wet cloths.
- Use moisturiser or aloe vera cream. It won’t stop any peeling, but it will put moisture back into the skin underneath. Never apply butter or oil to sunburnt skin, as they can actually increase the heat of your skin and burn it worse.
- Wear loose clothing to avoid chafing on your skin.
- Don’t pick at blisters or try to peel any peeling skin. Instead, cover any blisters with a band-aid or non-stick wound dressing to prevent infection.
- If your blisters pop or your skin peels off, apply antiseptic cream to the new skin underneath to prevent infection.
- Stay out of the sun until every last sign of sunburn has disappeared.
- See a doctor immediately if you get blisters over large areas of your body, a headache, nausea and vomiting, fever, or dizziness.
Apply more sunscreen on Sun Protection Alert days
SunSmart and the Health Protection Agency have placed a special Sun Protection Alert over the entire Daylight Saving period from September to April. From 10:30am to 3:30pm, we need to slip, slop, slap, wrap and stay in the shade. You can check the status of the Sun Protection Alert on SunSmart’s Sun Protection Alert website by clicking on your city in the map of New Zealand.