Skin Protection – the facts

Toddler with a ball - large rimmed hat

What causes skin cancer?

New Zealand has a great climate and outdoor lifestyle, but there is a hidden danger in the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays.

New Zealand has very high levels of UV radiation because we are close to the equator and have clear sunny skies.

Unprotected exposure to UV radiation injures the cells in the skin layers and can cause sunburn, early ageing of the skin and skin damage, which builds up over time and can lead to skin cancer.

Your risk of developing skin cancer is related to the amount UV radiation you have been exposed to over your lifetime, particularly in childhood.

Is skin cancer a problem in New Zealand?

New Zealand has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. About one in two people who grow up here will develop some form of skin cancer, and more than 1600 New Zealanders die from melanoma each year – the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

But the good news is that skin cancer is almost totally preventable and that most skin cancers can be cured if found and treated early.

Why should I protect my children from the sun?

Babies and children have sensitive skin, which means they have a higher risk of sunburn and skin damage from the sun’s UV radiation. Also, exposure to UV radiation during the first 15 years of life greatly increases the risk of developing skin cancer later in life.

Do my children need sunlight to stay healthy?

The sun is the best source of vitamin D, which children need to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones.

In New Zealand, because of our high levels of UV radiation, most children receive enough vitamin D just by going about their daily activities outside of peak UV times (10am-2pm or 11-3pm daylight saving time).

There’s no need to deliberately expose your child to the sun to get vitamin D. Even when well protected with clothing, hats and sunscreen, most children and babies get enough sunlight for healthy growth.

Some children may be at risk of low vitamin D levels, such as those whose mothers have low vitamin D, children with very dark skin, or those cover their faces for cultural or religious reasons. If you’re worried about your child’s vitamin D levels, see your GP.

Also, sunlight is not an effective treatment for jaundice or nappy rash. Nappy rash needs fresh air, not sunlight.

When do I need to protect my children from the sun?

Babies have delicate skin which can be easily damaged by UVR from the sun. Protect your babies and children every day. Even on cloudy or cool days, UV radiation levels can be high enough to damage your baby’s skin. UVR can cause painful sunburn and lead to freckles and increased risk of skin cancer.

Are my children safe from sunburn in the car?

The glass in car windows stops most, but not all, UV radiation getting through, so you still need to protect your babies and children on car trips. Close the car windows so that direct sunlight can’t get through, and use window shades or tinting for extra protection.

This information has been provided by the Cancer Society of New Zealand

For more information see Baby sun care or Baby Care.