Did you know that in Australia, the levels of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun are high enough to damage your skin all year round, especially in northern parts of the country closest to the equator?
We can be exposed to UV radiation through everyday activities like walking the dog, waiting for the bus, gardening, or hanging out washing. This exposure adds up over time and increases your risk of skin cancer, so it's important for all Australians to use the five recommended sun protection methods whenever we go outside.
Skin cancer affects two in three Australians by the age of 70. It can cause significant scarring, disfigurement or death, but there are simple ways to reduce your risk.
- Slip on a shirt
- Slop on broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
- Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
- Seek shade
- Slide on sunglasses.
Choose clothes that provide a good amount of skin coverage, including elbow-length shirts and knee-length pants. Collars provide good protection for the back of your neck. Clothing made with a tight weave cotton block out more UV radiation while allowing the skin to breathe.
Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) ratings are found on labels for swimwear, workwear, school uniforms and outdoor wear to help you choose clothes that provide the best sun protection. Fabrics are assigned a UPF rating depending on how much UV radiation they block.
Factors that contribute to the UPF rating are:
- composition of the yarns - cotton, polyester, etc
- tightness of the weave or knit - tighter improves the rating
- 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.
Whenever the UV Index is 3 or higher, we need to protect exposed skin by wearing a hat, applying sunscreen and seeking shade.
Sunscreen should be applied to your face, ears, neck and exposed skin every day if you plan to go outside, especially in northern parts of Australia like Queensland. If you plan to be outside for longer periods of time, it is recommended that sunscreen be used in combination with other sun protection methods such as wearing sun safe clothes, a hat and sunglasses, and seeking shade.
Choose a broad-spectrum, water resistant sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher, and always check the use-by date to ensure the product is not expired as this might make it less effective.
Apply sunscreen on clean, dry skin around 20 minutes before leaving the house, and re-apply often. Adults need about one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb.
If you get a skin reaction from sunscreen, try a different brand.
A well-fitting, broad-brimmed hat will protect your face, ears and neck from the sun. Legionnaire hats and bucket hats are also suitable, as long as they provide shade to these areas. Caps and visors are not recommended because they don't provide enough protect for your ears and neck, where a lot of skin cancers are often found.
Seek shade whenever you can, especially if you need to go outdoors between the UV peak times of 10.00am to 3.00pm. Bring portable shade like an umbrella if no shade is available, even if the weather is cool. Don't forget - surfaces like concrete, water, snow and grass can reflect UV radiation.
Sunglasses that meet the Australian standard and have an Eye Protection Factor (EPF) of 9 or 10 are best. Choose sunglasses which protect the sides of your eyes as much as possible and fit closely on your face. Sunglasses prevent the formation of cataracts and other eye conditions later in life.
Don't forget to monitor your skin for any changes, including new moles or any spots that evolve in shape, size or colour. Getting a regular skin check every year provides the best chance of early detection which might save your life.