All the cool kids wear sunscreen
With a bit of preparation it is possible to enjoy the sun safely, writes
When I was a kid, my mum did her best to smother me with sunscreen before I went outside. But sunscreen wasn’t cool back then, and my brother and I resisted at every opportunity we could get. When the fluoro zinc came out to play … well. There’s no way Mum could catch us let alone smear that nasty stuff on our faces.
Still, the older I’ve gotten, the more sun-smart I’ve become – mostly because of the C word. ‘‘New Zealand has the highest rate of melanoma in the world,’’ says Claire Austin, Cancer
Society of New Zealand chief executive. ‘‘There were 489 skin cancer deaths in 2013, more than the road toll. It’s serious; we need to take better care.’’
Melanoma is the most serious type of skin cancer you can get. It’s the kind of cancer that one day you don’t realise you have it and the next it’s out of control. The Cancer Society warns that even just one severe sunburn, especially in childhood and adolescence, increases the likelihood of developing melanoma further down the track. Just one. Jeepers.
Despite my mum’s best efforts, I have been sunburnt on many occasions. This is not uncommon; most Kiwis find it difficult to avoid. As a culture, we like getting outdoors, and for some reason we link ‘‘tanned’’ with ‘‘attractive’’ so we’re happy to combine the two. Sun worshipping is a popular pastime, and we still mistakenly believe that sunbedding is safer than sunbathing.
It also doesn’t help that our classic Kiwi ‘‘she’ll be right’’ mentality prevents many of us from seriously caring about our skin. Melanoma New Zealand reckons that death rates are higher among men – and appear to be increasing. Could our inherent carefree natures be contributing to Kiwi blokes’ premature deaths?
‘‘Getting sunburnt at any age increases the risk of skin cancer, so we all need to take care and be SunSmart,’’ says Austin. ‘‘We are now in summer and the Ultraviolet Index levels are normally very high or extreme – even on cloudy wet days!’’
We’re taught from a very young age that we should slip, slop, slap and wrap before we go out in the sun. Kids have to wear sunhats at school; there’s even an argument going around around whether schools should be responsible for putting sunscreen on their students too. Yet as we get older, we become increasingly irresponsible around sun safety.
The Cancer Society runs a SunSmart Schools programme where kids are taught how to enjoy the sun safely. They’re taught to slip on a long-sleeved shirt (slip into the shade), slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, wrap on sunglasses and avoid sunbeds like the plague. ‘‘Educating our children on how to safely enjoy the sun is important to reducing the incidence and impact of cancer in New Zealand,’’ says Austin.
Of course, children will pay attention to what they learn at school if the adults they look up to learn too. Let’s start practising what we preach. It’s literally a life or death situation.
The Kiwi attitude of ‘she’ll be right’ could mean we take a relaxed approach to the sun’s dangers.