SUNSCREEN FAQ

Got a query? Here’s some answers to help you.

New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma (the most dangerous type of skin cancer) in the world. Other types of skin cancers are also very common in New Zealand. You can reduce your risk of skin cancer by using sunscreen the right way, apply it liberally and often.  It will provide a screen or filter from the sun’s rays.

Using sunscreen is one of five steps you can take to be SunSmart.

You can be SunSmart by following these five simple steps from September to April, especially between 10am to 4pm:
1.  Slip – on sun-protective clothing
2.  Slop – on Broad Spectrum Sun Protection Factor (SPF) at least 30+ or higher sunscreen
3.  Slap – on a broad-brimmed hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears
4.  Wrap – on sun glasses
5.  Seek – seek shade wherever possible

Being outside and unprotected when Ultra Violet radiation levels are 3 or above increase the risk of skin cancer. Reapply sunscreen every two hours. Check the label on the back of your bottle of sunscreen for more information.

Use sunscreen that protects you from both UVA and UVB radiation. Choose a UVA/UVB Broad Spectrum sunscreen SPF30+ or higher. We recommend sunscreens labelled AS/NZS 2604.

SPF means ‘Sun Protection Factor’.  It is a measure of how well it protects the skin from sunburn. You need to use lots of sunscreen to be protected in the way your sunscreen says it will on its label.

Broad spectrum means your sunscreen filters both UVA and UVB radiation.  UVA rays can prematurely age your skin, causing wrinkles and spots.

When you follow the instructions on the label, SPF30+ filters 96.7% of UV radiation.  SPF50+ filters 98% of UV radiation.  Both SPF30+ and SPF50+ provide excellent protection as long as they are applied properly.

The Cancer Society of New Zealand voluntarily adheres to the AS/NZS 2604:2012 Sunscreen Standard under which the manufacture of sunscreens is strictly regulated.  Part of this process is that all batches of sunscreen that are produced are thoroughly tested to meet the claims as stated on the products.

Sunscreen has a three year shelf life, but always check the expiry date. There is no need to throw away your SPF30+ or SPF50+ sunscreen providing they are Broad Spectrum, water resistant and have been stored correctly below 30°C.

Use sunscreen on uncovered skin when you’re outside, between September and April when the UV Index is 3 or above.

You can find out what the day’s UV level is by looking at the UV Index on the NIWA website –
http://www.niwa.co.nz/our-services/online-services/uv-and-ozone/todays-uv-index
www.niwa.co.nz/our-services/online-services/uv-and-ozone/forecasts

You need to use sunscreen when you are in the mountains during winter. If you are skiing, tramping or mountain climbing you need sun protection. Snow and ice reflect UV radiation and can damage your skin and eyes.

Check the UV Index on the NIWA website every day and protect your skin between 10am and 4pm (when UV levels are 3 or above) between September and April, even when you are in the sun for short periods.

Slip, Slop, Slap, Wrap and Seek shade during the sun protection times. If the UV forecast is below 3, aim for at least 20 minutes outside in the midday winter sun. Uncover your skin  by wearing short sleeves or rolling up your sleeves – the more skin you have exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D you’ll make!

For best protection, apply your sunscreen at least 20 minutes before you go outside. This gives the sunscreen time to form a physical barrier (a cover) on the skin.

A tan does not protect against DNA and skin damage or premature ageing. It is a sign that your skin cells are trying to protect themselves from UV damage.  It is not a sign of good healthy skin.

Yes. You can get sunburnt on cloudy days because UV radiation can go through some clouds, and may be even stronger because it is reflected from the bottom of the clouds.  Sunburn is caused by UV radiation, not temperature, therefore, even on a cooler day in summer, the UV level can be intense.

Sunburn at any age, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage that can cause skin cancer later in life. Your lifetime of ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, together with the number of severe sunburns, increases your risk of cancer.

There is no cure for sunburn except time and patience. Treatment aims to help manage the symptoms while the body heals.  We suggest you:

  • drink plenty of water to recover from dehydration, as well as the sunburn
  • gently apply cool or cold compresses. Alternatively, bathe the affected area in cool water
  • avoid using a spa because this may irritate the affected skin.
  • do not apply butter to sunburnt skin.
  • talk to your local pharmacist about products that help soothe sunburn.
  • don’t pop blisters and resist the temptation to pick at the skin.  Cover itchy blisters with a wound
  • use a dressing to reduce the risk of infection.
  • moisturise – this will help boost the moisture content of the skin beneath but won’t stop the skin from peeling off.
  • take over-the-counter painkillers, if necessary.
  • keep out of the sun until every last sign of sunburn has gone.
  • apply antiseptic cream to new skin to reduce the risk of infection.
  • see your doctor or seek treatment at a hospital emergency department if you experience symptoms including:
    • severe sunburn with blistering over large areas of the body and pain
    • sunburn over a large area
    • headache
    • nausea and vomiting
    • fever
    • dizziness

Sunburn prevention is best. Use a combination of ways to protect yourself from the sun.

It depends on your child’s age and how responsible they are. The Cancer Society suggests you supervise young children while they apply the sunscreen.

Be careful about using sunscreen on babies under 1 year of age. Keep babies out of the sun where possible.  For further information please read Sun Protection for Babies and Toddlers.

Use a liberal amount of sunscreen.  The average-sized adult should apply, at least, ½ teaspoon to each arm and ½ teaspoon for your face, ears and neck and, at least, a teaspoon on each leg. If your body is exposed use a teaspoon on your front and back. That is, approximately, 35mL for one full body application.

You should liberally reapply your sunscreen, at least, every 2 hours or more often during peak UV levels, when swimming or sweating, especially between September through to April.

From September to April stay in the shade as much as you can. If you can’t do this – follow the SunSmart steps (slip, slop, slap, wrap and seek).

Before using a sunscreen, try a patch test. Put a small amount behind your knee or on your wrist (or your child’s) at least 24 hours before you plan to use it. Stop using the sunscreen if your skin changes colour or becomes irritated.

Sunscreen is one part of being SunSmart. The reasons for sun burn could be:

  • you haven’t used  the SunSmart steps (slip, slop, slap, wrap and seek).
  • you haven’t put on enough sunscreen.
  • you’ve exercised or swum and your sun screen has sweated or rubbed off.
  • you’ve been out in the sun for too long.
  • your sunscreen has passed its expiry date (it’s too old).
  • your sunscreen has not been stored correctly.

Keep sunscreen in a cool place – Store below 30°C.  Do not store sunscreen near direct or in-direct heat, for example in a golf bag or car glove box. For more information check the label on your sunscreen and check the expiry date.

Recipe – Take x1 heaped teaspoon of citric acid and mix it with 4 litres of water and then leave the clothes to soak in it. Use a soap for cleaning clothes to help shift the stains.

Sunscreens have a three year shelf life, but always check the expiry date. Store correctly and check that the sunscreen has not changed colour ie. yellowish.  Throw it away, if it has changed colour.

You can get free advice from the Cancer Society. Phone the Cancer Information Helpline on 0800 CANCER (226 237); email info@cancersoc.org.nz; or contact your local Cancer Society.

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