Did you know that the death rate from skin cancer is double the road toll each year? Sorry to start with a gruesome statistic, but that surprised me... and not in a good way. So let’s talk about being sun smart.
As a kid who grew up in the 70s and 80s, AND a ginger with extremely pasty white skin, I have had a love-hate relationship with the sun all my life. I love picnicking in the park, bushwalking, playing backyard cricket, swimming at the beach, and all those ‘normal’ Australian summer-time activities. Only it’s not that normal for me. I begin the ritual of applying goopy clear zinc at least half an hour before I step out the door. I have a prodigious collection of hats: big floppy ones, ones that won’t fly away in a strong wind (because drawstrings under the chin are SO vogue right now), caps, you name it. I also have a selection of ‘sensible’ sun clothing made from light fabrics that cover me from neck to knee without suffocating me on a 35 degree day. Then I set an alarm that reminds me to re-apply every two hours. Fun huh? But it wasn’t always this way…
There was no sunscreen when I grew up. In fact we were encouraged to smother ourselves in Bain de Soleil oil to speed up the baking process. I remember in the 80s when they first ran TV commercials to introduce sunscreen and educate us about SPF (sun protection factor)… there were cartoons of people with dark skin, who only needed SPF 2. Then there were people with brown skin who needed SPF 4 or 6. Us pale people needed to go all out with SPF 8, which was about as high as it went. And then of course in 1981 everyone’s favourite Sid the Seagull hit our TV screens to teach us how to Slip, Slop, and Slap.
It’s safe to say we’ve come a long way. We know that tanned skin is actually a sign of trauma, not health. We know that you can’t cheat with sunbeds. We know that the risk factors are: burning when we’re children, spending too much time in the sun, funny looking moles, a family history of skin cancer, and so on.
We’ve also added to our Slip, Slop, Slap routine: we now also Seek out shade, and Slide on sunglasses. In fact, we’re now taught that sunscreen ought to be our last line of defence against UV rays, instead of our first.
So what about sunscreen? They are most definitely not all created equal, and a higher SPF isn’t always a good thing. The EWG (Environmental Working Group) released a sunscreen guide this year that reviewed nearly 1,500 products. Check it out to make sure your sunscreen is working for you. In a nutshell, you need something that will protect you from both UVA and UVB rays, doesn’t contain harmful ingredients (think super high SPF products), and will remain stable in the sunlight. And avoid the spray-on products, because you don’t want to inhale anything. Choice has a guide you can also check out.
Lastly, to be super safe, replace your sunscreen at the start of every summer. The chemicals can lose their stability if stored for long periods, or if they’re exposed to high temperatures (like being kept in the glovebox of your car). To prolong its lifespan, keep your sunscreen in the same place you keep your cold drinks when you’re out and about.
And last but not least, there’s hydration. Here’s an easy read on how to avoid dehydration this summer.
Okay, lecture complete. I wish you all a fantastic summer filled with the best summer sports and barbecued goodies with great friends. Get that Vitamin D into you! But not too much.