Nicky Park: I accidentally got sunburnt

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You should do more than apply sunscreen to protect your skin.Photo / Thinkstock
You should do more than apply sunscreen to protect your skin.Photo / Thinkstock

I didn't mean to, but I got sunburnt. I slipped, I slopped and I slapped. I sat on the sand, in the sun, on a North Shore beach and I read the Sunday paper. I chatted to my beach buddies, I walked around and I didn't notice my flesh being attacked by the sun's rays.

I got home and began to feel the skin on my legs and belly begin to sting. These are the areas of my body that tend to be hidden from sunlight for most of the year. They felt sticky, taught and tender. I struggled to sleep, my shower was a scolding nightmare and I had to bail on the gym because it hurt so bad.

I know all the rules about sun safety, and employ them. However, on this occasion I obviously wasn't vigilant enough. But, my word, I have learnt my lesson. And I know that the damage isn't just short-term. There's the premature ageing and skin cancer risk I have opened myself up to.

I love summer. I'm all about eating outdoors, being barefoot and frolicking in the sunshine. But this experience has prompted me to revise the sun safety messages drilled in to us.

How do you know when you need more sunscreen?

Tauranga-based dermatologist Dr Paul Salmon says you just can't tell when you need to reapply. To be safe, lather up after you've been in the water, and if you haven't been swimming, apply at every meal time.

However, here's where I went wrong: "What's important to appreciate is sunscreen is not a perfect tool and it really should be used just for areas of your body you can't easily cover with clothing. It's not alright to cover yourself in sunscreen and put on your bikini and go and spend the day on the water or at the beach because sunscreen does not protect you as well against ultra-violet radiation as clothing does."

Despite all the warnings about sun safety, people still get burnt through, right?

"People just don't seem to have grown up with that message, that actually you should be out of the sun from 11 until at least 4.30pm," Dr Salmon says (sounding pretty frustrated at this fact).

So, I've gotten burnt (and am red-faced for more than one reason). But please, help me, what can I do to ease the pain?

Rub yoghurt all over your body, take a hot shower to take away the heat, cover yourself in tomato slices to re-hydrate the skin - my visible sun damage has led people to dish out all sorts of wacky advice.

Salmon laughed off these natural suggestions, saying they aren't "particularly helpful" - "what are you doing to do? Open up a can of tomatoes and rub it all over your skin?"

He says the best way to calm the area is with an over-the-counter cortisone cream and a cold flannel. Aloe vera will cool your skin down. And if you begin to blister get straight to the doctor.

I'm relieved to tell you that after three days of feeling ouchy from my underwear, wearing only loose-fitting maxi dresses and moisturising on the hour, every hour, my skin has forgiven me for my silliness. The redness has reduced, I've gotten back on the spin bike and I've been able to wear clothes against my skin again. Summer's here, it feels so good, until it feels that bad. Live it, learn it.

* Follow Life & Style Editor Nicky Park on Twitter and Instagram.

* This story was published last summer but we think a sun safe message is worth reissuing.

Nicky Park

Editor of Life & Style.

Nicky lives to wine, dine and thrive. As Life & Style Editor at the New Zealand Herald online, she feels lucky she can call this work. Nicky crafted her writing skills as a cadet for an Australian news wire. Amongst the coverage of sport, news, finance and courts she found a favourite in features. A stint as a foreign correspondent sent this chipper Aussie across the Tasman, covering the big issues of the Pacific Islands. Every single day Nicky relishes the opportunities she has to mix and mingle with interesting people, feast on delicious food, visit new places and write all about it. Nicky wants everyone to make the most of their minutes, learn lots and live their best life.

Read more by Nicky Park

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