Summer skin advice

Guest post from Skin Cancer Specialist Dr Sonja Bodley

What does a kiwi summer mean to you?

Pohutakawa in flower? Running across the hot sand trying not to burn your feet? Sunburnt shoulders and peeling skin?

Down-under we love summer – it’s almost part of our DNA to soak up as much of those summer days and sunshine as possible.

Unfortunately it’s also part of the reason why we have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. I’m always up to beat our Aussie neighbours at pretty much anything – but this is one time it’s a bad thing to trump them at.

Research shows we know about sunscreen, we buy it and most of us put it on – so then why are more of us dying from skin cancer than the road toll every year? What are we doing wrong?

Well….. a big part of the reason is we treat sunscreen like an impenetrable force field off a star trek episode. We swipe a thin layer on at 6am and then head out in our shortie shorts and jandals for a
day of sunshine. We feel smug that we put sunscreen on, but we come home burnt, complaining that the sunscreen must be faulty because we ended up looking like a lobster anyway!

Well here’s the thing my fellow humans – sunscreen isn’t 100% effective even if you use it correctly (which most of us don’t). At best an SPF 50 will give you 98% protection from UV………so 2% of those pesky rays are still getting you. 2% doesn’t sound like much right? Let me tell you – it’s enough over the course of days, weeks, months and years to cause some pretty severe damage.

We are also a bit slack with the way we use sunscreen. We put a thin layer on as we lay on the beach in the midday sun never to reapply. To get the most from your sunscreen you have to slather that stuff on like icing on a cupcake every 2-4 hours starting 20 mins before you expose your skin to the harsh NZ sun.

But no matter how good your sunscreen is or how diligently you apply it – if you’ve got your skin out during peak times – you’re going to get damage. You need to cover yourself up with clothing, hat and sunglasses and get into the shade.

Do you put your seatbelt on and then intentionally crash your car? Nope! So don’t put sunscreen on and then lie in the sun. Sunscreen is your insurance policy for when you can’t get away from the sun, not an excuse to lie in the sun for longer.

So what does it all matter? Who cares about a bit of sunburn? Well the families of those who died of skin cancer this year do. Cancer – a word that should strike fear into the heart of any sensible person – and yet we treat it as a bit of a joke. If you get skin cancer your doc just cuts it out and away you go right? No big deal? Wrong. Skin cancer treatments can be painful, costly, disfiguring and at worst – they fail to clear the cancer and it comes back. This xmas there are more than 380 people missing from the xmas tables of their families because of skin cancer.

As a skin cancer doctor I have seen first hand the devastation skin cancer leaves behind and I don’t want to see that happen to you and your whanau.

So as summer approaches in our beautiful country I’m asking you to rethink how you treat your skin this summer. I’m asking you to look after yourself and your family in the sun. I’m asking you to use your sunscreen and use it properly, to cover yourself up, to seek shade so that next Xmas you can take your seat at the Xmas table with your family.

So from us here at Ropata Health to you and your whanau – take care this summer, have a safe and Merry Xmas and a Happy New Year.

Dr Sonja Bodley, MB ChB, FRNZCGP, Cert SCMS & Dermatoscopy Adv Cert SCMS