Sunburn Increases our Risk of Skin Cancer, at Any Age!

Sunburn – it increases our risk of skin cancer, at any age

I don’t know about you, but I’m astonished by how readily my adult kids reach for the sunscreen and cover-up clothing before they even think about walking out the door and into the sun. I’m equally astonished by how tolerant my grandchildren (even the toddlers) are of having me rub sun screen onto them, when they’re staying with me. The truth is, it’s me, who has to get into the routine of taking care of my own skin!

Brought up in an era where ‘sun bathing’ and a ‘healthy tan’ were de regeur, I have to remind myself, every day, about the need for skin protection. And I’m forever giving thanks for the ‘slip, slop, slap’ jingle on the TV a few years back. The fact is, we live in one of the most high sun-risk countries in the world, and with more than 200,000 Kiwis diagnosed with melanoma each year, if we want to enjoy the outdoors, we must take care of ourselves. Here’s how I do it:

Cover up clothing

Covering up our skin with clothing is a good policy, but here’s the thing – not all clothing is equal when it comes to skin protection. Some garments, including those which have a tighter weave and darker colours, offers greater UV protection than others. I look especially for garments which have UPF on their label. The ‘Ultraviolet Protective Factor guarantees enhanced protection.

Sunscreen security

I’m thrifty – I admit it. But there’s one product on which I don’t hesitate to spend up large, and that’s sunscreen. I settle for nothing less than one with an SPF (sun protection factor) rating of 30. And although it’s cheaper bought in bulk (and I do keep a family sized container of it at home), I also purchase smaller tubes which can be kept in my handbag. I did think about decanting the larger container into smaller travel-style bottles, but decided against this after reading this could compromise the product (among other reasons for this, some sunscreen can absorb or react with unsuitable containers, and then be rendered less effective).

Pick and choose

Exercise is a must for me (for both my mental and physical health!) but come the sunnier seasons, I’m careful to meet up with friends for my daily walk early in the morning or in the evening, when the sun is at its lowest. If I decide to jump on my e-bike, it’s always with sun protective clothing and plenty of sunscreen rubbed in, especially on my thighs and the tops of my feet (which see the most sun when I’m pedalling), and under my chin where reflective light bounces up off the road.

The only time I’m tempted to exercise in the hottest parts of the day is when I’m at my local outdoor pool, where I aqua-jog under the shade of a canopy.

My garden guarantee

Nothing is going to stop me getting out into the garden over summer, but I’m careful to work my way around the beds according to the position of the sun so I’m always working in shade or dappled light. I’m helped in this regard because of the now-mature trees I‘ve planted over the years, and because of a shade-sail I’ve had erected over my deck. I have a lovely balcony garden, and I can work happily in it, even in the middle of the day, because of the shade the sail provides.

Check the meds

Last but not least, I check out any skin care or medications I’m taking, for how they’re likely to interact with the sun. Some medications make our skin more sun-sensitive, and it only takes a phone call to my GP to check if mine are included.

I have friends who (foolishly) tell me they’ve already damaged their skin in their youth, so what’s the point of protecting it at this late stage. But the reality is, sunburn, at any age, can increase your risk of cancer. I want to enjoy my retirement – and staying safe in the sun is going to help me do it!