Guest Blog: Skin Health and Sun Protection

Dr Sonja Bodley worked as GP before specialising in the management of skin cancer and minor skin surgery. She is a passionate about sun protection and skin health. She is based in Lower Hutt where she runs her clinic.

When I was asked to write this blog I struggled to find just one topic to discuss.
Skin cancer and it’s prevention in this country is such a huge issue, how do I find just one topic to talk about?!

Then as I scrolled through Facebook - I found my answer. I saw a photo of a
friend lying on the beach with a bottle of sunscreen beside her. This sums up
perfectly a common myth amongst kiwis - putting on sunscreen means you can safely stay out in the sun for longer right? Wrong.

Sunscreen is not an invisible shield like something you’d see on a Star Trek episode! Let’s start with a few cold hard facts - an SPF 50 sunscreen if used absolutely correctly (and mostly we don’t use it properly) will give you 98% protection from UVR. So that’s 2% of those little suckers getting through - causing premature ageing and more importantly increasing your risk of developing skin cancer.

Kiwis tend to be “one hit wonders” with their sunscreen - we slap it on once and then head out for the day to do what kiwis do - boating, sport, hiking - you name it and we’ll be there. Trouble is - sunscreen only works if you use it properly. It needs to be reapplied every 2 hours - even if you’re not in the water. Yup - that’s right, even on dry land you need to be frequently reapplying.

Using sunscreen correctly also means applying it when it’s needed. “Sunscreen” the word itself implies that you use it when it’s sunny! Here’s the thing -
It’s not the temperature outside that tells you when you need to use sunscreen - it’s the UV Index or the amount of uv radiation in the atmosphere - and that stuff is still around even in winter. Ever wondered why you can get burnt skiing even though it’s winter?? It’s because the amount of radiation is higher at higher altitudes - nothing to do with the outside temperature! There are fancy apps for phones you can get that tell you the uv index and when it’s above 3 you should have sunscreen on regardless of whether it’s summer or winter.

While we’re talking about our “she’ll be right attitude” to sunscreen use - we like to be economical too don’t we? Don’t want to waste too much - because sunscreen can be pricey huh? We even use it past the expiry date because it would be a crying shame to waste it. Trouble is - if you don’t use enough or use it when it’s expired then it doesn’t work as it should. Which means your not as “right” as you think.

But what does it all matter?

My dear old dad used to say “get out there and get a bit of colour, a bit of sun never killed anyone”. Now I was always taught not to correct my elders - but sorry dad, you were really wrong on this one.

Cancer. That’s what we are dealing with here people. Not a little skin infection, not a little blemish. Cancer!

Ordinarily that word is enough to make people stand up and take notice but for some reason with skin cancer people tend to laugh it off. After all - if you get skin cancer they just cut it out right? Well mostly that’s true - but for hundreds of kiwis a year it’s not that simple. Their skin cancer causes pain, disfigurement and for some can be fatal. Believe me - that “little” skin cancer can ruin or even take your life.

So what’s the one message I really want to give you?

It’s this - take protecting your skin seriously. Cancer is always serious.

Protect yourself - use your sunscreen and use it properly, but don’t rely on it by itself to protect you. Use all the things in the slip, slop, slap to protect you and your family.

Until next time - protect the skin you’re in.

Dr B

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