Safeguarding your skin

The best anti-ageing product is the humble sunscreen. Apply multiple times a day for the best results.

Of all the items to pack in your bag for your summer holiday, sunscreen is one of the most important. No matter which destination you’re headed for – beach, lake, or mountain – you need to protect your skin from the sun, especially in New Zealand with our depleted ozone hole which means there’s no filter between us and UV light.

We might not be talking about the ozone hole as much, but NIWA* reports that it is still a concern, and it did in fact appear earlier this year than previously and is likely to be around longer lasting into the summer months. This is due to the January 2022 eruption of the Tongan volcano Hunga-Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai. The extra water vapor from the volcano took 18 months to spread to the Antarctic but is now having an effect. Water vapor is a greenhouse gas. The best thing you can do is check the UV index daily and ensure you cover up, block up or stay indoors when it’s at its highest.

Block Up

With our disastrously high rates of skin cancer, a statistic we unfortunately lead the world in, the need for covering skin is so important. Even if you’re just heading out for a brief period you still need to put block on.

“In the clinic we are dealing with all sorts of skin changes as a result of exposure to sun,” explains Dr Ellen Selkon from Clinic42. ‘’We have clients presenting with lots of pigmentation, basal cell carcinomas, and squamous cell cancers. We diagnose melanoma as well. But aside from this we also see poor quality of skin with solar elastosis – real wrinkly tough, sun damaged skin. When it’s this bad it’s irreversible.”

There are treatments to improve skin quality and reverse minor sun damage. “Some cosmeceuticals help with pigment changes and some injectables will hydrate skin and create collagen growth, but it is an uphill battle, and you have to be diligent and work at it. The best thing you can do is protect your skin from a young age (so remind your kids and grandkids). It’s never too late to start using sunscreen.”

Dr Selkon recommends a barrier sunscreen – with zinc and zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. “Some formulations can leave a whiteish tint on skin but there are many that don’t with newer zinc formulations drying beautifully. We still don’t know enough about chemical blockers; it really comes down to personal preference.”

Physical vs Chemical blockers

Basically, there are two types of sunscreens – physical and chemical blockers. Physical contain high levels of zinc oxide and titanium oxide and create a barrier on the skin to stop UV light from penetrating. Chemical blockers are ingredients that absorb and break up UV light once it has entered the epidermis. The FDA have requested more safety data on 12 chemical filters as some had been found to enter the bloodstream. We have an in-depth article about this online (goodmagazine.co.nz) written by beauty expert Sara Corleison which is worth reading.

The Sunscreen (Product Safety Standard) Act 2022

In March 2022 the Government approved new legislation called The Sunscreen Act and allowed a year’s grace period where products made or imported prior to this date could be sold up until September 2023. Now, it is legally required for all manufacturers and importers to comply with the AS/NZS 2604 standard.

During the 12 month transition period the Commerce Commission rigorously tested all products available in the market.

“It’s great we can now give surety to consumers, compliance is now mandatory whereas previously it was voluntary,” says Martha van Arts, general manager of Cosmetics New Zealand. “Most brands were following the standards set between New Zealand and Australia anyway.”

The problem was with the reporting and sensationalising of some cases where testing would pull short on sunscreen claims and labelling.

“No company or brand that makes sunscreen wants anyone to get burnt. We are in the industry of keeping people safe in the sunshine and I think for a long time there was a very one-sided narrative. I personally took it on as owner of Skinnies – I felt like it wasn’t doing any consumers justice. Sunscreen is and was even before this act, highly regulated but in New Zealand we didn’t have a mandatory standard.”

She says the most important factor is to look out for products that have SPF30, broad spectrum and are water resistant. And then use as directed.

*read more on niwa.co.nz/news/early-and-long-lasting-ozone-hole-forecasts-niwa

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