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Christmas. A time for family and friends,  jingle bells and Jack Frost, Santa and ... Sunburn! Yes, while we like to celebrate with sleighs, snowflakes all those other northern hemisphere traditional images of Christmas, in New Zealand we need to make sure that we are not the chestnuts roasting on that open fire!


Living in New Zealand we are often bombarded with messages about the dangers of sun exposure. And rightly so. According to Sunsmart, over 300 New Zealanders die of skin cancer every year and it is by far the most common form of cancer in this country. Our unique environment means we are particularly vulnerable to ultraviolet rays which cause sunburn. All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage and can lay the groundwork for skin cancer in later life.


Sunburn occurs when your skin is overexposed to ultraviolet radiation causing it to change in colour from slightly pink to severely red or purple. Severe sunburn may cause blistered skin and even a fever, nausea and dehydration. 


The best way to prevent sunburn is to use sun protection, especially between 11am and 4pm. Sunscreen is one type of sun protection. Ask your pharmacist which sunscreen is best for you (check out for the new generation sunscreens that let Vitamin D in).  You should also always wear protective clothing during this period, as well as a hat and sunglasses. In addition, try to keep in the shade whenever possible.


However, if you do get sunburnt, here's what to do:


  • Use cold compresses on the burnt areas, for example a wet, cold towel.

  • Ask one of our pharmacists for topical treatments to manage the pain and heat, or a moisturising cream for dry skin.

  • If blistering occurs, do not burst them as you may get an infection. Instead cover with a gauze or a bandage. If your blisters do burst, see your pharmacist for treatment options.

  • If you are in pain you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen. Ensure you follow the directions carefully.

  • Avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water to help rehydrate your body.

If the sunburn is severe, your eyes are extremely painful, or you have blisters accompanied by a fever or nausea, see us at the pharmacy or visit a doctor immediately.

Yes, red is a great colour at Christmas time, but not on your skin! Wishing you all a happy "sunburn-free" holiday season.

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