BE SUNSMART

The new year is usually the time we start new habits. Why not make yours an effort to Slip Slop Slap Seek Slide & Skin Check this summer?
Good sun protection slows the signs of ageing and most importantly, prevents skin cancer.

There is no such thing as a safe tan – whether from the sun or a solarium. Tanning is a sign your skin cells are in trauma. Even if a tan fades, the damage remains. The more you tan your skin, the greater your risk of skin cancer. If you must have a tan, then use fake tan, but remember that sun protection is still required.

UV RADIATION

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. UV damage also causes sunburn, tanning, premature ageing and eye damage.

You can’t see or feel UV radiation. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a type of energy produced by the sun and some artificial sources, such as solariums, so you won’t notice the damage until it has been done.

The sun protection times show when UV levels are forecast to be 3 or higher. You can find the sun protection times for your location on the free SunSmart app or at the Bureau of Meteorology website.

 

VITAMIN D

Vitamin D is a hormone that controls calcium levels in the blood. It is needed for strong bones, muscles and overall health. The suns UV radiation is the best natural source for vitamin D. The body can only absorb a limited amount of vitamin D at a time. Spending extra time in the sun won’t increase vitamin D levels, but will increase your risk of skin cancer.

 

PROTECT YOUR SKIN

Most skin cancer can be prevented by using good sun protection.

It’s never too late to improve your sun protection habits, no matter if you are six months or 60 years old. Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! Slide! during sun protection times. Remember to self-check your skin monthly and have an annual skin check with your GP.

SLIP ON CLOTHING

One of the best barriers between your skin and the sun is clothing, so try to cover as much skin as possible. Factors that affect the level of sun protection provided by a fabric include:

  • Weave – tighter weave or knit improves the rating
  • Fibre – polyester is often better than cotton
  • Colour – darker colours are generally better
  • Stretch – more stretch lowers the rating
  • Moisture – many fabrics have lower ratings when wet
  • Condition – worn and faded garments may have reduced ratings
  • Finishing – some fabrics are treated with UV absorbing chemicals

Clothing is rated on the basis of its Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). It indicates how effectively fabrics shield your skin from ultraviolet (UV) rays. The higher the UPF number, the greater degree of UV protection a garment offers.

UPF Range Protection Category Effective UV Transmission (%) UPF Rating
15-24 Good 6.7-4.2 15, 20
25-39 Very Good 4.1-2.6 25, 30, 35
40-50 Excellent 2.5-2.0 40, 45, 50
50+ Ultimate Less than 2 50+

Clothing protection should always take priority over protection with sunscreens. Mainly because we usually do not apply enough sunscreen, we fail to reapply it, or it washes off. Besides the important sun minimisation strategies like seeking the shade, clothing with a high UVP is the ideal protection for outdoor workers and swimmers.

SLOP ON SUNSCREEN

Sunscreen should be the last line of defence after clothing, a hat, shade and sunglasses. During sun protection times, apply SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen to any skin not covered by clothing.

The sun protection factor (SPF) is a measure of protection sunscreen gives against UVB radiation. In lab conditions, SPF30 filters 96.7% of UVB and SPF50 filters 98%. Both can provide excellent protection if they are applied properly.

Check and follow the use by date stated on the packaging and store sunscreen below 30°C.

How to apply Sunscreen:

  • Use a generous amount of sunscreen. The average-sized adult needs a teaspoon of sunscreen for their head and neck, each limb and for the front and the back of the body. That is about 35ml of sunscreen for one full body application.
  • Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and re-apply again every two hours (whether or not the label tells you to do this).
  • Remember to reapply after swimming or excessive sweating.

Sunscreen has been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of melanoma and other skin cancers.

SLAP ON A HAT

The skin on your face, ears and neck is much thinner and more sensitive to UV damage. Choose a hat that provides good shade to your face, head, neck and ears.

For the best protection during the daily sun protection times, use all five SunSmart steps – clothing, sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, shade and sunglasses.

When choosing your hat:

  • look for a wide brim (at least 7.5 cm brim for adults)

or

  • bucket (should have a deep crown, angled brim of at least 6 cm and sit low on the head)

or

  • legionnaire (should have a flap that covers the neck and overlaps at the sides of the front peak)
  • check the material: What is the UPF rating?
  • make sure it is cool and comfortable.
  • Baseball caps are not a good option for everyday sun protection because they only protect your scalp and forehead. However, they can be good to wear during active recreation, when a broad-brimmed hat may be less practical.
  • Use a brim attachment or legionnaire cover if wearing a hardhat or helmet.

Many babies and toddlers do not like to wear hats. Persistence is needed to teach them that a hat is part of their outside routine. It is also important the adults around them role-model good sun protection behaviour by wearing their hats too.

SEEK SHADE

Shade is a practical, user-friendly form of sun protection. Well-designed and positioned shade can significantly reduce UV exposure as well as create cool, comfortable spaces for physical activity and recreation. Research shows that if shade is available people will use it.

Shade can be:

  • natural (trees, shrubs or shadow cast from nearby buildings)
  • built (pergola, shade sails, etc.)
  • portable.

SLIDE ON SUNGLASSES

Your eyes are very sensitive to UV damage. Wearing a broad-brimmed hat can cut the amount of UV radiation reaching your eyes by 50%. Wearing both a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses can reduce UV rays to the eyes by up to 98%.

  • Choose a close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses.
  • Check the swing tag to make sure they meet the Australian Standard for eye protection (AS/NZS1067:2003). The Standard has five categories of sun protection – choose category 2 or higher. These lenses absorb more than 95% of UV radiation.
  • Some sunglasses carry an Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Ratings of EPF 9 and 10 provide excellent protection, blocking almost all UV radiation.
  • Check if the sunglasses are suitable for driving.
  • Polarised sunglasses reduce glare and make it easier to see on a sunny day.

The Australian Standard for sunglasses and fashion spectacles does not cover prescription glasses. Some prescription glasses provide UV radiation protection – check with your optometrist. If purchasing prescription sunglasses, make sure they are close-fitting and a wrap-around style.

SKIN CHECKS

Most skin cancer can be successfully treated if it is found early. But without treatment, skin cancer can be deadly. Get to know your skin and what looks normal for you to help you find changes earlier. Get into the habit of checking your skin regularly.

This is also important if you have naturally dark skin. Although your risk of melanoma is lower, it is more likely to be found at a later, more dangerous stage than people with lighter skin.

See our article on Skin Checks.

WHERE TO GET HELP