All the cool kids wear sun­screen

With a bit of prepa­ra­tion it is pos­si­ble to en­joy the sun safely, writes Erin Reilly.

The Tribune (NZ) - - BACKYARD BANTER -

When I was a kid, my mum­did 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 wayMum­could 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.

123RF

The Kiwi attitude of ‘she’ll be right’ could mean we take a re­laxed ap­proach to the sun’s dan­gers.

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