9 family sun safe tips for summer
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world so protecting ourselves from over-exposure to the sun is an important healthy behaviour – and it needs to start early.
Research has shown that reducing children’s exposure to ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is considered to be the single most effective strategy for reducing future rates of skin cancer in New Zealand.
And don’t think that just because you’ve reached adulthood, the damage has already been done. Protecting your skin from sunburn in your 20s, 30s and 40s will significantly reduce your risk of skin cancer, slow the ageing process and model good behaviour to your kids.
Here are our nine tips to protect your family from the sun this summer.
1. Develop a sunscreen habit
This summer make putting on sunscreen as habitual as cleaning your teeth. Have a tube or bottle of SPF30+ water-resistant sunscreen in a visible spot near the back door, for example, and as your family prepare to head outside, it will become second nature to slop on the sunscreen. If that old adage of taking 21 days to form a habit stands true, start the sunscreen ritual today and your family will be in a good routine in no time at all.
2. Pick your outdoor times
Being outside is great for the whole family in summer – but just try to avoid long periods in full sun between about 10am and 3pm during the hot months when the UV levels are at their most intense. Make sure wherever you are there are shady areas to retreat to.
3. Keep hat stashes
Have a collection of easy-to-access hats for the whole family strategically positioned around the areas your family frequent. And make sure there are a couple of extras for friends and visitors who may have forgotten their hat. Keep a pile in the car, some in your beach bag and a stash around the house. While caps are very fashionable, if you’re going to be in the sun, a broad-brimmed hat offers the best protection.
4. Be UV index-savvy
Every day, the UV index is calculated, region-by-region around New Zealand, and it’s given a numerical value. Here’s a rough guide to understanding what the values mean:
- Less than 3 – this is termed 'moderate' and will result in sunburn after one hour exposed to the sun
- Between 3 and 6 – this is 'high' and will lead to sunburn after approximately 30 minutes in the sun
- Between 6 and 10 – called 'very high', you will sunburn after approximately 10 minutes in the sun
- Greater than 10 – this is 'extreme' and will lead to sunburn in less than 5 minutes exposed to the sun
Download a UV index app on to your phone. These offer real-time measures for many areas around New Zealand and many even say how long it will take for the sun to damage your skin.
5. Wear sun-protective clothing
Some garments now come with what’s called a UPF (ultraviolet protection factor) rating, particularly those aimed at being worn in the sun, like rash vests. For example, wearing clothing with a UPF rating of 40 will reduce solar UVR exposure to the skin beneath the garment by a factor of 40. This means a UPF 40 fabric will only allow one-fortieth of the UVR to pass through it.
Darker colours usually block more UVR than lighter colours.
6. Wear sunglasses
The sun can also do some major damage to the eyes – and it starts when we’re young. According to The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), long-term exposure to UVR can also cause cataracts, a clouding in the lens of the eye, which obscures vision as well as short-term eye damage if the UVR intensity is sufficiently high. Good quality sunglasses provide the eyes with substantial protection against the sun. ARPANSA recommends buying sunglasses that protect against UVR – sunglasses rated 2 to 4 have good UV protection.
It is the UVR-absorbing properties of the lenses that provides the protection and not the colour of the lenses – dark sunglasses are not necessarily more effective at protecting the eyes from UVR than lightly tinted sunglasses.
7. BYO shade
If you like to spend the morning at the beach or to go out on picnics to the park, keep a shelter, sun umbrellas or other shading items in the boot of your car. This way you can easily make your own shade and still enjoy the great outdoors.
Make sure you still wear sunscreen, a hat and sunglasses under the shade because UVR can be reflected and burn the skin.
8. Keep hydrated
Hot weather and running around in the great doors can rapidly dehydrate little bodies. Water helps keep the body’s temperature stable, while also keeping the body running generally. Little kids, particularly if they’re swimming, may not be aware that they’re thirsty. So make sure you have drinks on hand or easy access to clean water.
9. Be sunscreen smart
Applying sunscreen is just part of the process. To ensure you’re getting the most out of your sunscreen, know these rules:
- When: Always apply at least 20 minutes before sun exposure to give the sunscreen time to bond effectively with the skin.
- How much: Apply liberally so all exposed, or potentially exposed, parts of the body have sunscreen on them. As a rule of thumb, use just under a teaspoon for each arm, leg, body front, body back and face (including neck and ears).
- How often: Even if the packaging says “water-resistant for four hours”, the Cancer Society recommends vigilant reapplication every two hours.
Related sun smart articles
- What is sunscreen SPF?
- 5 sun safe lessons for kids
- Kids and sunscreen
- 5 fun summer sports your kids will love
- Swimming lessons save lives
- Why kids should wear sunglasses
This article was written by Fiona Baker for Kidspot, New Zealand's best family health resource, in conjunction with NIVEA SUN. Sources include Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, Cancer Council Australia and Cancer Society New Zealand.