We need to reinforce the link between sun exposure and skin cancer. 

Melanoma, the most deadly form of skin cancer, is diagnosed in over 4,000 New Zealanders every year, that is around 13 people every day. NZ's melanoma rate is the highest in the world. Skin cancer is typically caused by your behaviour in the sun - are you sun-smart or sun-slack?

What is behind this very high incidence in melanoma in New Zealanders? New Zealanders tend to be sporting and have an outdorrs lifestyle, there is also a cultural trend in Australasia, the USA and Europe in which people associate being tan with being fit and even successful. Pale complexioned people of European ancestry are more susceptible to sun burn after UV exposure. Generally the paler the skin the less tolerant to UV exposure and more risk of sunburn. Sun burn is not just a painful experience for a couple of days, the damage is deeper and persistent. Every sunburn causes permanent damage to the skin cells DNA, the genetic code that controls cell behaviour. Enough UV exposure and sun burn episiodes eventually will cause the genes to produce out of control cell growth and skin cancer. Although many skin cancers are treatable by surgery, there are a significant number of New Zealanders every year that have to undergo complex treatments, including radical surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, hoping to control their disease. Not all are successfully treated and too many succumb to their cancer.

Sun exposure not only increases your risk of skin cancer it causes premature aging. Common facial skin changes from sun exposure include lines and creases, irregular pigmentation, ruddiness and thinning of the skin. All of these will make you appear older than your true age, these sun damage changes are obvious from your late 20's onwards.

How do you minimse your sun exposure and reduce your skin cancer risk and reduce your apparent age? We all know the common sun smart advice - cover up with a hat, clothing, apply sun block (often and thorough coverage to exposed areas), avoid outdoor activities in the middle of the day when burn time is peaking. Despite best efforts it is still possible to get sun burnt, for example there was good cloud cover and you thought the risk was low - overcast conditions provide some block but enough time outside adds up to sunburn eventually. Did you know the UV exposure is worst at higher altitudes, in windy conditions and when on the water - sounds like rowing at Lake Ruataniwha...

In summary, it is healthy to have an outdoors or sporting lifestyle but it is not healthy to be tanned. You need to look after your skin by minimising your sun exposure, just like you look after your heart with a healthy diet and your lungs by not smoking. The added bonus of healthy skin is that you will look younger than your real age.

The only thing that should be tanned is leather.


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