The sunburnt country is also the country of the sunburnt people, so we've gathered some great info on how to save your skin over summer!
Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, with more than 1700 Australians dying from skin cancer each year, and two out of three Australians getting some form of skin cancer before the age of 70.
Most people only need a few minutes of sun each day outside peak UV times on the equivalent skin area to that of the face, arms and hands to maintain adequate levels of vitamin D throughout summer. Vitamin D helps the body fight disease, fight depression, boost weight loss, and promote bone growth - and ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun is our body’s best source of vitamin D. Regrettably, UV radiation is also the major cause of skin cancer.
You can't see UV radiation, nor can you feel it. And high temperatures and intense heat are not an indication of UV radiation.
The UV Index describes the daily danger, using an international standard measurement of the strength of sunburn-producing solar UV radiation expected at the ground level of a particular place, at a specific time. It uses 5 different index levels to illustrate the severity of UV radiation, scaled from “Low,” to “Extreme.”
RISK OF HARM FROM UNPROTECTED SUN EXPOSURE, FOR THE AVERAGE ADULT
0 – 2.9
A UV Index reading of 0 to 2 means low danger from the sun's UV rays for the average person.
Wear sunglasses on bright days. If you burn easily, cover up and use broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen. Bright surfaces, such as sand, water and snow, will increase UV exposure.
3.0 – 5.9
A UV Index reading of 3 to 5 means moderate risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure.
Stay in shade near midday when the sun is strongest. If outdoors, wear sun protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Generously apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Bright surfaces, such as sand, water and snow, will increase UV exposure.
6.0 – 7.9
A UV Index reading of 6 to 7 means high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Protection against skin and eye damage is needed.
Reduce time in the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If outdoors, seek shade and wear sun protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Generously apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Bright surfaces, such sand, water and snow, will increase UV exposure.
8.0 – 10.9
A UV Index reading of 8 to 10 means very high risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Take extra precautions because unprotected skin and eyes will be damaged and can burn quickly.
Minimize sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If outdoors, seek shade and wear sun protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Generously apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Bright surfaces, such as sand, water and snow, will increase UV exposure.
A UV Index reading of 11 or more means extreme risk of harm from unprotected sun exposure. Take all precautions because unprotected skin and eyes can burn in minutes.
Try to avoid sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. If outdoors, seek shade and wear sun protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and UV-blocking sunglasses. Generously apply broad spectrum SPF 30+ sunscreen every 2 hours, even on cloudy days, and after swimming or sweating. Bright surfaces, such as sand, water and snow, will increase UV exposure.
Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world. Sydney and Canberra experience an Extreme rating on the UV index for 1/6th of every year. Melbourne spends 12.5% of their year in the Extreme, and more than 29% of the Perth’s year is rated Extreme. 37.5% of every year in Brisbane is considered Extreme, and Darwin experiences Extreme UV Index ratings for over 70% of each year – with the rest of the year ranking ‘Very High!
It is hardly surprising then, that an estimated 200 melanomas and 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers are caused by occupational exposures in Australia each year.
Sun safety at work
The Australian Work Exposures Study reported that 22% of Australian workers are exposed to solar UV radiation at work. That equates to around 2,628,250 Australian workers who have to contend with the sun while at work.
The study also found that only 8.7% of workers (or 1,039,354 people) were classified as fully protected (used hat, sunscreen, clothing and shade for more than half the outdoor working time), while 94.9% used at least one form of sun protection, with protective clothing (80.4%) and hats (72.2%) accounting for the most common form of protection.
Considering how extreme the Australian average UV index ratings are, the amount of under-protected workers around the country is highly concerning.
In 1981, Australia was introduced to a singing seagull named Sid, who encouraged us all to slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, and slap on a hat. Thirty-five plus years later, being sun-smart is just as important today as it was then. And while the relevance of sun protection in Australia has remained, the ‘slip, slop, slap’ message has been updated to include an extra two steps – seek some shade, and slide on some sunglasses. Both new steps are included in the Cancer Council’s recommendations to working safely in the sun.
Slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide
Health and safety legislation in each of the Australian states and territories requires employers to provide a safe work environment. Speak with your health and safety representative if you feel that your workplace does not provide adequate sun protection measures.
Your local Cancer Council may be able to assist your workplace with its sun protection policy and resources, and if your job requires you to work outdoors, sun protection products are tax deductible.
Slip on some sun protective work clothing
If you’re at work, chances are you’re wearing a shirt. If your company hasn’t provided you with an appropriate uniform, try and wear clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Cover as much skin as possible. Long pants, and work shirts with a collar and long sleeves are best.
- Choose lightweight, closely woven material with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of 50+
- Choose loose fitting clothing to keep cool in the heat
Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
- No sunscreen provides complete protection, so never rely on sunscreen alone.
- Choose sunscreen that is broad spectrum and water resistant
- Apply sunscreen generously to clean, dry skin 15-20 minutes BEFORE you go outdoors.
- Reapply every 2 hours, or more often when sweating.
- Protect your lips with an SPF 30+ lip balm.
- Always check and follow the use-by date on sunscreen.
Slap on a hat
- A hat should shade your face, ears, and neck.
- A broad brimmed style hat should have a minimum 7.5 cm brim
- A bucket style hat should have a deep crown, angled brim of minimum 6 cm, and sit low on the head.
- A legionnaire style hat should have a flap that covers the neck and joins to the sides of the front peak.
- If wearing a hard hat or helmet, use a brim attachment or use a legionnaire cover.
- Work and take breaks in the shade. Where no shade exists, use temporary portable shade
- Plan to work indoors or in the shade during the middle of the day when UV radiation levels are strongest.
- Plan to do outdoor work tasks early in the morning or later in the afternoon when UV radiation levels are lower.
- Share outdoor tasks and rotate staff so the same person is not always out in the sun.
Check daily updates of the UV Index as well as the regular weather forecast.
Call the Cancer Council of Australia on 13 11 20, or visit www.cancer.org.au