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Shining the light on sunscreens
Skin Institute
October 17, 2016

Did you know that almost 70,000 Kiwis are diagnosed with skin cancer every year?  It’s now New Zealand’s most common cancer, and we can all help avoid it by using the right sunscreen every day.

Sunscreens are effectively filters, screening out most of the sun’s UV rays – UVA and UVB rays.  And these rays are present in our atmosphere whether the sun’s out, its cloudy or even when it’s raining.

What does UVA and UVB mean?
UVA (A is for ageing) is a long wavelength and penetrates deeper into the skin than UVB.  It’s responsible for causing loss of texture and tone, broken blood vessels, and drooping and sagging from damage to the underlying structure of the skin.

UVB (B is for burning) is a shorter wavelength and is responsible for causing sunburn, discoloration, skin lesions, spots and wrinkles.

90% of skin aging is caused by repeated exposure to the sun. Photo-aging, the term given to this sort of sun damage, affects the tone, colour and texture of the face, neck and the back of the hands, and often the arms and upper chest area.

Here’s a bit more detail on these super-potent damage factors:

UVA rays are able to penetrate deeper into the skin, right to the lower dermal layer. The dermal layer comprises collagen, elastin and the extra-cellular matrix, which provides structural support to the skin. It’s common to blame ‘gravity’ on the droop that happens as we age, but really it’s the fault of the skin’s internal structure breaking down, resulting in gravity having a more significant effect. Damage to the dermal layer causes loss of tone, sagging and dilated or broken blood vessels, which are most commonly visible on the nose and cheeks.

UVB can only reach the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis. UVB is responsible for the majority of sunburn. Along with giving you a tan, UVB causes the formation of freckles and dark spots, which can develop into skin cancer. And yes, exposure to UVB can also damage skin cells, promoting elastin and collagen damage.

In summary, UV-damaged cells produce free radicals that cause inflammation and result in aging.  New Zealand’s light is particularly harsh on the skin thanks to a number of factors including our UV levels and relative lack of air pollution.

How to protect your skin against UVA and UVB?
Wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen everyday (on the exposed parts of your body) will help block UVA and UVB rays from damaged your skin.  Make sure you apply enough sunscreen to provide good coverage on your skin and ensure its applied at least 20 minutes before you head outside.

Most sunscreens will only protect you for 2 hours, so re-applying your sunscreen throughout the day, especially if you’ve been in water is a must.

Are there different types of sunscreens?
You can split them into two types – chemical and physical.  Higher-priced products may also deliver additional antioxidants while they protect you.

Generally, chemical barriers absorb the UVs, converting them into energy and then safely filtering them through the body’s own cooling system.

Physical zinc-based sunscreens, on the other hand, bounce the UVs back and away from the body, scattering it like a mirror ball on a dance floor.

What’s better?
Chemical screens are great when you are really active and the all-day varieties really do last all day long.

Zinc can help to repair your skin while you protect it, but zinc and water (or perspiration) don’t mix so if you’re out for a run and likely to wipe your face with a hand or towel then you are safer wearing a chemical sunscreen.

Short on time? Be aware that zinc blocks immediately, while a chemical sun block takes at least 30 minutes to be absorbed before it’s fully effective.

Tip: It’s most effective to apply your chemical sunscreen underneath your moisturiser.


Protect your skin every day.  Check out our range of recommended sunscreens available on our Skin Store or in our clinics nationwide.

If you haven’t had your skin checked before (or in the last 2 years), book a full body skin cancer consultation with a specialist doctor at Skin Institute.  Call 0800 SKIN DR or book online now.


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Book a skin cancer consultation

Book a skin cancer consultation with one of our Doctors. You may be after a full body skin cancer assessment, or a consultation for a specific skin cancer concern. Whatever your need, we have Doctors available to help.