Ask Dr Heather

A friend asked me the other day, why is sunscreen so important? With the upcoming long hot summer El Nino is expected to deliver (wahoo!), it got me thinking. Why do we bang on about sunscreen? It must seem like sunscreen companies are sponsoring us to (they aren't).

It all comes down to science. When the sun stuns us with her rays, she emits Ultraviolet Radiation (UV). There are different types of UV, the main ones that affect us are UVA and UVB. The energy they carry penetrates our skin and cooks us in a similar way to how a microwave heats up our dinner.

Limited amounts of cooking (up to 15 minutes or so) are good for our tissues as it stimulates beneficial pathways in our body such as the production of Vitamin D, good for anti-ageing, bone and immune system maintenance.

Too much of a good thing causes changes in our skin including altered pigmentation (spots), damaged collagen and dysfunctional deposits of elastin leading to wrinkles. Pigmented lesions/spots can also be triggered to mutate, leading to formation of cancer cells and the dreaded melanoma.

Sunscreen protects us from this radiation, broad spectrum the preferred choice to combat UVA (penetrates deeper and through glass, causing us to tan) and UVB (penetrates less deep and causes us to burn). Using this every day (even in winter and when its cloudy) helps prevent and treat these changes.

Like the necessity of wearing clothes, sunscreen should be part of the wardrobe. To be worn every day, except when the curtains are drawn and one is hiding inside.

Dr Heather Anderson is a Cosmetic Medicine and Urgent Care Doctor who practises in her own clinic at ALLOR Cosmetic Medicine in Whenuapai. If you have a question for Dr Heather you'd like answered anonymously in the magazine, please email