The benefit of sun-protection to prevent skin cancer is well proven and accepted. The famous Slip, Slop, Slap campaign introduced in Australia in the 1980's advises Slip on a shirt, Slop on sunscreen, and Slap on a hat. Later the campaign was broadened to include Seek shade and Slide on sunglasses.
Lets look briefly at each component ending with the first one:
Slop on sunscreen
This is probably the first item that comes to mind when the public are asked about the campaign, or sun-protection in general. Sunscreens these days are typically broad spectrum (UVA and UVB protection) and of SPF 30-50+. Some ingredients of sunscreens have come and gone over the years due to efficacy and safety concerns. There is also current concern about the effects some ingredients have on the marine environment.
A landmark study published late last year by a research group associated with the FDA found for the first time that many modern sunscreen ingredients are potentially absorbed through the skin into the systemic circulation. That is that their presence can be measured in blood samples from human subjects wearing sunscreens. What is not known yet is whether the presence of these chemicals does us any harm. Urgent research is clearly needed but for the time being, sunscreens remain an important part of sun-protection. They are usually the most practical solution for protecting your face for example when you must be outdoors. A balaclava or full face buff is not always appropriate. Some prefer "non-chemical" sunscreen such as those containing zinc or titanium as the principle ingredient. These two have had their fair share of concern (mainly around nano-particle absorption) and aren't always pleasant to use and can dry and irritate the skin with prolonged exposure.
Sunscreen should only be part of a much broader sun-protection regimen, as the remainder of the campaign reminds us.
Slap on a hat
Hats are potentially very useful and effective. However they are not without their problems either. Some people simply refuse to wear hats for various reasons (hot, uncomfortable, itchy, deleterious to hair style etc). Many people think a cap is sufficient. A cap protects the scalp and a varying amount of the forehead but should not be relied on for sufficient protection of the remainder of the head and neck region (ears, nose, cheeks, lips, neck etc). A broad brim hat made of a close-weave fabric however offers excellent protection. Any hat will not protect from reflected light/UV off the water, snow or the ground. Hats can be difficult to use in sporting activities, and in high wind. The uptake of broad-brimmed hats on the beach this summer seems to be improving but there are still many with no hats at all, or only a cap.
This is obvious but there are two problems. Most outdoor activities can't be undertaken completely in the shade. You still may suffer from reflected or transmitted sun even under a tree, umbrella, or patio roof. Most of our summer pursuits are performed between between the hours of 10am and 4pm. Aside from a regular run or walk that can be scheduled outside these hours, we usually want to be at the beach, in the boat, or playing team sport during the day when the UV level is at its highest.
Slide on sunglasses
Sunglasses are a popular fashion item and are widely used. It is worth looking for ones which have a high UV protection rating and are preferably of the wrap-around style for outdoor activities to provide maximum protection. They provide excellent protection not only for the eyes themselves, but the delicate skin of the eyelids which is not an uncommon site for non-melanoma skin cancer and can be difficult to treat.
Finally, Slip on a shirt
Clothing possibly receives the least attention of all the above despite being an excellent sun-protective option. With the exception of 'rash-shirts' which are fortunately now widely used by children while swimming, you will find very few people on New Zealand's beaches wearing more than T-shirt and shorts, or swimwear. The two most widely quoted reasons for the lack of uptake are that clothing is too hot, and it is really difficult to find proper clothing that fits this purpose.
You may already own items of clothing that would work well as sun-protection. Problems however include: the fabric must be closely woven, dark fabric is far better than light colours (but much hotter), and many fabrics lose a huge amount of sun-protective ability when they get wet from swimming or sweating. So, how do you know what is safe? Just like sunscreens, fabrics can be formally rated to indicate the level of sun-protection they provide. Like SPF for sunscreens, clothing can be given a UPF rating (Ultraviolet Protection Factor).
If you dislike the sticky or greasy feeling of sunscreen, the time it takes to apply, the frequent reapplication, the brown or white marks on your clothing, car, seats etc, or are concerned about the possible health effects of the systemic absorption of sunscreen ingredients; UPF50+ clothing offers an excellent alternative.
Now you know this, where do you find this gear in NZ? It is pretty limited.
Having searched and tried a number of UPF50+ tops from NZ, Australia, and the US, we can highly recommend the Quarter-zip top by Gill Sailing (UK) which is retailed through Burnsco Marine in New Zealand. It is long-sleeve and has a collar which are critical features. It is comfortable and cool to wear, quick drying, and inexpensive. Buy online (link below) or visit a Burnsco store. The stores only stock the men's version presumably due to demand but the good news is that you can order the women's top from the Burnsco webstore and they will source it with their next order from the UK, and send it out to you.
Men's quarter zip top available instore or online:
They also stock UPF50+ polo shirts (really need additional protective sleeves as below), long-sleeve T-shirts (not so good without a collar), sunglasses, and hats.
Women's quarter zip top available online (choose your size and colour from the UK website and then contact the Burnsco webstore to order:
UK site: https://gb.gillmarine.com/womens-uv-tec-long-sleeve-zip-tee/
Local site to order: https://www.burnsco.co.nz/contact
The full Gill UPF clothing range is available on the UK site (link below) and can be sourced by contacting Burnsco locally on the link immediately above.
If you have a UPF-rated polo shirt, you could add a pair of UPF50+ arm sleeves from the NZ company IceRays. These are available at golf and bowls retailers.
We have no financial or other relationship with any brands or suppliers mentioned in this article. We are not verifying performance or quality claims of the products.