Wondering how you can be SunSmart? The following questions and answers will help! 

Is a suntan healthy?

There is no such thing as a healthy tan. A tan results from your body defending itself against further damage from ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

Can you get sunburnt on a cloudy day?

Yes. Up to 80% of UV radiation can penetrate light cloud cover. UV radiation levels can be high, and even increase, due to reflection from clouds. Also, the cooler temperature may mislead people to believe there is no risk of sunburn.

Can you get sunburnt while in water?

Yes. Water offers only minimal protection from UV radiation and the reflection from water can increase your UV radiation exposure. 

If I take regular breaks during sunbathing can I get sunburnt?

Yes. UV radiation can build up during the day.

Can I get sunburnt through glass?

Yes. Glass reduces but does not block UV radiation. People who spend long periods in a car or next to a window receiving direct sunlight should use protection.

If the temperature is not that high am I still at risk?

Yes. Sunburn is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation that cannot be felt. The temperature, or heating effect, is caused by the sun’s infrared radiation and not by UV radiation. Temperature and UV radiation levels are not related.

Am I at risk of sunburn in winter?

Usually no - except when you are at high altitudes or in snow.  At higher altitudes there is less atmosphere to filter ultraviolet radiation.  Snow is highly reflective and increases the risk of burning. Exposed skin needs to be well protected by sunscreen and clothes.

What is Ultraviolet Protection Factor?

The Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) shows how effective a fabric is at blocking out ultraviolet radiation. This testing follows Australian/New Zealand standards (AS/NZS4399).

UPF ratings range from 15 to 50. A higher rating means more effective blocking and better protection.
UPF15 to 24 = good protection
UPF25 to 39 = very good protection
UPF40 to 50+ = excellent protection

What is SPF?

SPF is the 'sun protection factor'. The SPF number shows how much protection against UVB and some UVA radiation that a sunscreen provides. The higher the number, the more UV radiation is filtered, and the greater the protection.

SPF is not precise, but gives a general guide to sun protection. No matter how high the SPF rating, no sunscreen can filter all UV radiation. All sunscreens allow some UV radiation to pass through to the skin.

We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. We also recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

I don’t understand the ultraviolet index and it doesn’t tell me how long I can stay out in the sun. How do I work that out?

The UVI or UV index is a measure of the UV radiation in the environment – the higher the UV index number the higher your risk of skin damage and skin cancer. Anything from 3 and above means you need protection. To help you work out how best to protect yourself find out the UV index in your region and get your own personal recommendations. It is difficult to suggest how long people can safely stay out in the sun, as there are a number of factors to take into consideration such as skin type.

What’s the best way to use sunscreen?

Choose a sunscreen that meets the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS2604 (check the back of the bottle to see if it meets the standard). We recommend a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more. We also recommend a broad-spectrum sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Wipe sunscreen on thickly at least 15 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply sunscreen 15 minutes after the first application to ensure full coverage and also after physical activity, swimming or towel drying. Sunscreen should not be used as a way to stay out in the sun longer, but as a way of reducing your risk. Sunscreen should be used along with other protection such as a hat, sunglasses, a long-sleeved shirt and shade.

Can I get the benefit of vitamin D from the sun without the risk of skin damage?

Yes. Enough sun exposure is needed to maintain adequate vitamin D levels, but too much sun exposure increases your risk of skin cancer. A balance is needed between the two.

People with fair skin can achieve their vitamin D levels in summer by exposing their face, arms and hands to a few minutes of sunlight outside of peak UV radiation periods (10am to 4pm, September to April). People who have darker skin will need a longer exposure time to achieve the same effect. To achieve sufficient vitamin D without sunburn, it is better to expose larger areas of skin for shorter periods than exposing smaller areas of skin for longer periods.

You can still be SunSmart and avoid sunburn while achieving vitamin D levels. Sensible sun protection (slip, slop, slap and wrap) between September and April  should not put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency. And, sunburn should always be avoided. Read more.

Are sun beds a safe way to get UV radiation?

There is no evidence sun beds are safe. They increase the risk of melanoma, particularly for people with fair skin under the age of 30. Unlike Australia and other countries, New Zealand does not have mandatory standards for sun bed operators. Sun beds and solariums emit much higher levels of UV radiation than the sun – up to five times as strong as the midday summer sun! Using sun beds or other UV radiation tanning devices is not recommended. Read more.

The wind burnt me, not the sun – right?

Wrong. It is UV radiation from the sun that causes skin to burn. Wind lowers the temperature of the air, making it easy to underestimate the risk of harmful exposure to UV radiation.

Do I have to be careful if I have dark skin?

Yes. New Zealand has periods of very high UV radiation meaning that everyone, regardless of skin type, is at risk of skin cancer or damage to their eyes.

I tan easily. Is my skin less likely to be damaged by the sun?

No. Any exposure to UV radiation has the potential to cause skin damage. Sunburn and peeling are signs some damage has already occurred – even if it turns into a tan. The tan you develop won’t protect you from the harmful effects of the harsh New Zealand sun.

I have had sunburn but now I protect my skin. Am I safe from developing skin cancer?

You can’t undo damage that may have already occurred to your skin, but you can prevent future sunburn to minimise any further risk.