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Children, Sun and Skincare: Are Kiwi Parents Doing Their Best to Prevent Harmful Burns?
Skin Institute
December 13, 2015

Quite simply, the answer’s no.

New Zealand’s high skin cancer rates are the worst in the world with 45,000 skin cancers confirmed by lab tests each year and on top of that more than 2200 cases of melanoma – the deadliest form of skin cancer. In 2011 malignant melanomas resulted in 359 deaths, that’s more than the road toll for that year.

These figures reveal a harsh truth: adults aren’t doing enough to follow the simple steps to avoiding New Zealand’s strong sunshine.  It’s exposure to sunshine and it’s UV that is thought to be the main cause of skin cancer.


Who does it affect?

Don’t kid yourself. Skin cancer does not only affect only people with long histories of living, playing and working outside. Melanoma in New Zealand is one of the most common forms of cancer for those aged between 25 and 44 and, for those aged up to 24, it’s the third most common form of cancer in women and fourth in men.

Just one childhood incidence of sunburn that causes blistering, can more than double the risk of that person developing melanoma in later life. With this stark fact revealed, insurance company Southern Cross carried out a survey about children, families and sunburn.

Child sunscreen beach

The results were worrying:

  • 51% of parents admitted their children had been sunburnt – most commonly at the beach or park (55%), school (23%) or home (23%).
  • 72% off Kiwis aged under 40 get sunburnt each year.
  • 58% of all New Zealanders get sunburnt each year.
  • 38% aged under 30 sunbathe on holiday.
  • Only 26% of Kiwis use sunscreen at least once a day.
  • 22% of men don’t use sunscreen at all.


We see this reflected in our clinics with a 20% increase year-on-year in bookings related to skin cancer – with the most significant increase in bookings among people aged under 30 who have sun damage or skin cancer.

Skin cancer surgeon Mark Izzard says:  “Most of our clients were not regular wearers of sun block – but they certainly start once they have had a cancer,” he said.


As a parent, what can you do?

1.  Make sure your children know the SunSmart rules:

  • Slip: on a shirt with collar and sleeves
  • Slop: on SPF 30+ sunscreen
  • Slap: on a wide brim hat
  • Wrap: on sun glasses
  • Stay: in the shade

2.      Lead by example: Monkey-see, monkey-do: Make sure you role model sun-safe behaviours and your children see you applying the SunSmart rules.

3.      Know the ins and outs of sunscreen.

4.   Get your family’s skin checked every year: At Skin Institute we offer full body skin cancer consultations at which a Doctor will look at entire surface of the skin for suspicious moles or lesions and will help you make a treatment plan if necessary.


The ins and outs of sunscreen

Sunscreen isn’t designed to keep you out in the sun for longer, it’s designed to decrease exposure to harmful UV radiation. To make sure your sunscreen is as effective as possible, follow these simple rules:

  • Check your sunscreen’s use-by date – although most have a wide safety margin, it’s safest to use sunscreen before it’s use-by date.
  • Check your sunscreen is suitable for New Zealand conditions – broad-spectrum means it filters UVA and UVB rays and an SPF of 30 should filter around 97% of UV radiation.
  • Check your sunscreen is fit for purpose – ConsumerNZ carried out a survey of kids’ sunscreens and, after discovering some didn’t live up to the claims on their labels, has compiled a list of products worth considering.
  • Check how your sunscreen has been stored – if it’s kept too warm for too long it can ‘denature’ which means it won’t be as reliable
  • Apply sunscreen 15-20 minutes before going outside to give it time to form a complete protective barrier.
  • Apply more sunscreen than you think – the general rule is around a teaspoon for each arm, each leg, back, front and face/neck/ears.


More for those who want to know why our sun is so bad

The ultra violet (UV) radiation levels in New Zealand, according to NIWA research, are up to 40% higher during the warmer summer months than in corresponding latitudes in the northern hemisphere. That’s because in our clean green country there’s less pollution to block UV rays and Earth’s orbit takes us closer to the sun than during the northern hemisphere’s summer.  As an aside, this is why many people who have emigrated from Europe or whose families come from Europe aren’t suited to Kiwi con

There are 2 types of UV: UVA and UVB.

Ozone absorbs UVB, which is the type of UV radiation that causes basal and squamous cell carcinomas (types of skin cancers). The ozone levels in New Zealand are lower than many other countries. The lower the ozone level, the more UVB is getting through. In New Zealand, we’re very exposed and high risk.

UVA is the ultra violet light that causes melanoma. UVA isn’t absorbed by ozone so even if ozone levels were normal, it would still be vital to cover up.


The main message:

From Mr Mark Izzard: “The main message to get across, to children especially, is always wear your sun block when playing outside; try to stay out of the sun around lunchtime; and – most importantly – never, ever get a sun burn.”

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