Useful Information

1. It is not possible to get sunburnt on windy, cloudy or cool days.

FALSE. You can get burnt on windy, cloudy and cool days.

Sunburn is caused by UV radiation which is not related to temperature. A cooler or windy day in summer will have a similar UV index to a warmer day. If it’s windy and you get a red face it’s likely to be sunburn. There’s no such thing as ‘windburn’.

You can also get sunburnt on cloudy days, as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds and may even be more intense due to reflection off the bottom of the clouds.

Check the SunSmart UV Alert every day and protect your skin when UV levels are three or above, even when you are in the sun for short periods. The SunSmart UV alert is available at www.cancersa.org.au and in the weather section of most daily newspapers or at www.bom.gov.au/weather/uv. A SunSmart app for iPhones that predicts the UV level for each day can also be downloaded from the iTunes App store.

2. If your cosmetics contain sunscreen you do not need to use sunscreen.

FALSE. You should wear sunscreen under your makeup if you’re going to be in the sun.

Foundations and moisturisers that contain sunscreen are fine if you are outside for short periods such as a quick trip to the shops at lunchtime. However if you need to spend periods of time in the sun use a separate sunscreen and reapply it every two hours, not just once in the morning. Be aware that most cosmetic products offer protection that is much lower than the maximum recommended SPF30 or higher.

3. People with olive skin are not at risk of skin cancer.

FALSE. People with olive skin can get skin cancer too.

Regardless of skin type if you spent your childhood in the sun without adequate protection you are at higher risk of developing skin cancer than someone who grew up with good sun protection. People who tan easily or are naturally dark skinned have a lower risk than people with fair skin that burns easily but they are still at risk of skin damage and skin cancer. And generally when skin cancers do occur they are detected at a later, more dangerous stage.

Care still needs to be taken in the sun.

4. Solariums are a safe way to get a ‘base tan’ to start off the summer.

FALSE. Solariums are not a safe way to tan.

Solariums emit UV radiation that is up to three times stronger than the midday sun, so they can damage your skin even faster than a ‘natural’ suntan. Research shows that using a solarium can significantly increase your risk of melanoma. There is no safe way to tan, whether from the sun or a solarium.

5. People need plenty of sun exposure to avoid vitamin D deficiency.

FALSE. You do not need to expose yourself to the sun during peak UV times to get enough vitamin D.

For most people, adequate vitamin D levels are reached through regular incidental exposure to the sun. 

When the UV Index is 3 or above (August - May in South Australia), the majority of people maintain adequate vitamin D levels just by spending a few minutes outdoors on most days of the week.

Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

In June and July, when the UV Index typically falls below 3 in southern states, we recommend spending time outdoors in the middle of the day with skin uncovered to support vitamin D production. Being physically active e.g. gardening or going for a brisk walk, also helps boost vitamin D levels.

Increasing your sun exposure beyond the recommended level does not increase your vitamin D.

6. A fake tan darkens the skin so that means your skin is protected from the sun.

FALSE. Fake tanning lotion does not improve your body’s ability to protect itself from the sun so you will still need sun protection.

Some fake tans have an SPF rating. However like sunscreens, this only gives protection for around two hours and then needs to be reapplied for continued protection.

7. You don’t have to be concerned about skin cancer because if it happens you will see it and it is easy to treat.

FALSE. Skin cancer treatment can be much more serious than having a lesion ‘burnt off’. It can include surgery, chemotherapy and can result in permanent scarring.

Skin cancer can also metastasise and spread to other parts of your body. Each year more than 1,850 Australians die of skin cancer.

Be alert for any new moles or changes to existing moles and consult your GP immediately if you notice anything concerning. And remember prevention is always better than cure.

8. Only sunbathers get skin cancer.

FALSE. Excessive exposure to the sun does not just happen when deliberately seeking a tan.

In a sunny country like Australia we can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation during all sorts of daily activities such as working outdoors, gardening, walking the dog or having a picnic. This sun exposure adds up over time and increases our risk of skin cancer.

9. If you tan but don’t burn, you don’t need to bother with sun protection.

FALSE Even if you tan you need sun protection.

If your skin turns brown it is a sign of sun damage, even if there is no redness or peeling. Your skin turns brown as a way of trying to protect itself because the UV rays are damaging living cells. A suntan offers limited sunburn protection of around SPF3 but doesn’t protect against further DNA damage. If you tan easily you are still at risk of skin cancer and need to use sun protection.

10. You can’t get burnt in the car or through a window.

FALSE. You can get burnt through a window.

Glass reduces but does not completely block transmission of UV radiation so you can still get burnt if you spend a long time in the car or behind a window when the UV is high. More commonly people are burnt in cars with the windows down where they can be exposed to high levels of UV radiation.

When UV levels reach three and above it is recommended that you protect your skin in five ways for maximum protection – Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide:

  • Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible; it’s one of the best barriers between your skin and the sun.
  • Slop on a SPF 30 or higher, broad spectrum sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors, and reapply regularly.
  • Slap on a hat that provides protection to your face, neck and ears. 
  • Seek shade when outdoors, staying under a tree and umbrella can reduce your overall exposure to UV radiation.
  • Slide on some sunglasses that are close fitting, wraparound and cover as much of the eye area as possible. 

More information on how to Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide:

Slip on clothing

To protect your skin from over exposure to UV radiation, wearing clothing that covers as much skin as possible is recommended. It is important to consider both the weave of the fabric and the style of the clothing when choosing appropriate protection.

  • Shirts with collars and long sleeves and long trousers or skirts give you the most protection.
  • Look for clothing made of a closely woven material - the tighter the weave of the material, the better protection from UV radiation.
  • Darker colours give slightly more protection than lighter colours, but can be hotter to wear during warmer weather.

Some clothes are labelled with an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF). The UPF number is a guide to how much protection the fabric provides from UV radiation. Look for a UPF 50+ for maximum protection.

For more information, visit the ARPANSA clothing information site: www.arpansa.gov.au/RadiationProtection/Factsheets/is_UVProtection.cfm

Slop on sunscreen

Sunscreen should always be used with other forms of skin protection. Sunscreen contains chemicals that either absorb or reflect UV radiation before it damages the skin.

SPF 50+ sunscreens filter out about 98 per cent of UV rays. Those labelled broad spectrum filter both UVB and UVA radiation. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) label on a sunscreen is only a guide to the strength of the product, not how much time you can safely spend in the sun.

Choosing sunscreen

It is important to choose a maximum protection sunscreen, so look for one that is labelled SPF 30 of higher and broad spectrum. Sunscreen comes in a variety of different formulas (milk, lotion, cream), so choose one that suits you best. Check the use by date on the sunscreen and don’t use a sunscreen that is out of date.  Always store your sunscreen under 25°c.

Applying sunscreen

Always apply sunscreen liberally to clean dry skin 20 minutes before going outside. Use one teaspoonful (5 ml) for each arm, leg, front torso, back torso and your face, neck and ears. This means a full body application is 7 teaspoons (35 ml) of sunscreen.

Reapply every two hours, or more regularly if you are perspiring or involved in water activities.

You do not need to rub sunscreen into your skin until it disappears. The cream will be absorbed into your skin over the 20 minutes before you go out into the sun.

No sunscreen – even if it is reapplied regularly - offers complete protection against UV radiation.  Always use sunscreen in conjunction with other forms of sun protection.

Sunscreen and nanoparticles

Nanotechnology has been used in sunscreens for many years. To date, our assessment, drawing on the best available evidence, is that nanoparticulates used in sunscreens do not pose a risk. However, we continue to monitor research and welcome any new research that sheds more light on this topic.

Sunscreen formulas and their components are regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In early 2009, the TGA conducted an updated review of the scientific literature in relation to the use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens.

The TGA review concluded that:

  • the potential for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause adverse effects depends primarily upon the ability of the nanoparticles to reach viable skin cells; and
  • to date, the current weight of evidence suggests that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells; rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin that is composed of non-viable cells.

The TGA's report concerning the safety of sunscreens can be found at www.tga.health.gov.au/alerts/sunscreens.htm

Cancer Council looks closely at TGA’s advice, as well as our own evidence-based reviews.

Sunscreens also use ‘microfine’ or ‘micronised’ particles, which are larger than nanoparticles:

  • Nanoparticles are smaller than 100 nanometres and invisible to the human eye – a nanometre is 0.000001 millimetre.
  • Microfine particles are smaller than those used in conventional white zinc sunscreens, however are larger than nanoparticles – usually in the range of 100 to 2500 nanometres.

Sunscreen has been proven to reduce the risk of skin cancer, in particular non-melanomaskin cancer. Skin cancer claims more than 1,800 lives each year: we urge Australians to protect themselves from the sun in five ways – Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide.

More information about sunscreen

For more information on sunscreen visit these websites.
Skin Health www.skinhealth.com.au/info/home
Sunscreen calculator www.sunsmart.com.au/suncreen-calculator/tool.asp

Slap on a hat

Wear a hat that provides plenty of shade to your face, neck and ears; these are common sites for skin cancer. Choose a hat with closely woven fabric in one of the recommended styles for good protection.

Cancer Council recommends three styles of hats for good protection.

A broad brimmed hat with a brim width of at least 7.5 cm.
A legionnaire style hat where the back flap meets the side of the front peak.
A bucket hat with a deep crown that sits low on the head and has an angled brim, which is at least 6 cm wide.

Broad brimmed hat               Bucket hat                               Legionanaire hat

  

Seek shade

Using shade as much as possible when you are outdoors is an important strategy in protecting your skin. Shade from trees and man made structures (pergolas, buildings) provide protection from UV radiation, but do not totally block it out. UV radiation can still be reflected off the ground and buildings around you even under dense shade.

Always use shade as well as clothing, hats, sunglasses and sunscreen for maximum protection from UV radiation.

For more information on shade and planning shade for your site visit, www.sunsmart.com.au/intro

For more information about how much protection various shade structures provide, visit www.arpansa.gov.au/uvrg/rginfo_p11.cfm

Slide on sunglasses

Eyes can also be damaged by UV radiation. Damage includes degenerative changes, cataracts and pterygia.

Cataracts cloud the lens of the eye and are one of the most common types of eye damage in Australia, mostly due to sun exposure. Untreated cataracts can lead to blindness.

Choose sunglasses that wrap around the eyes and don’t let light in around the frames, especially at the sides, and make sure the frames fit close to the face.

Sunglasses are given an Eye Protection Factor (EPF), which is a guide to how much UV protection they provide.  The EFP is rated on a scale from one to 10. Sunglasses labelled EPF 10 provide almost 100 per cent UV protection. Sunglasses sold in Australia must meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003.

All sunglasses must have a protection category label. Look for category two, three or four and/or a lens description that states “good UV protection”. Category zero and one are fashion glasses and provide only some UV protection. Polarised lenses reduce glare.

There is usually some sun protection information on the label. Look for the EPF or the protection category.

Skin should be protected in five ways (Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek, Slide) when the UV radiation level is three and above.

UV radiation is the part of sunlight that causes sunburn and skin damage and leads to premature ageing and skin cancer.

UV radiation cannot be seen or felt. Maximum UV levels occur around midday when the sun is directly overhead. UV levels are not related to air temperature; high levels of UV radiation also occur on cool days.

UV radiation levels are dangerous for skin when they reach a UV Index level of three or above.  UV radiation levels are strongest over the middle hours of the day, between 10 am and 3 pm but are also strong enough outside of these hours to cause skin damage.

UV radiation is strongest during the months that the sun is directly overhead. In South Australia, from August to May, UV levels across the day range from moderate to extreme every day and sun protection is required.

UV radiation levels are divided into low (one to two), moderate (three to five), high (six to seven), very high (eight to 10) and extreme (11 and above).  Once UV reaches a moderate level it is strong enough to cause damage to the skin.

A UV Index level of three is high enough to cause skin damage, so it is important to protect your skin when the UV radiation level is three and above. The higher the UV radiation levels, the less time it takes for skin damage to occur.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts UV levels with the weather forecast every day and provides us with local daily sun protection times, for example 9.30 am - 3.30 pm. The sun protection times tell us when UV is predicted to be 3 and above, which is when sun protection is required. It is a useful tool for anyone planning outdoor activities.

UV levels and sun protection times can be accessed by downloading the free SunSmart appor by adding the SunSmart widget to your website.

my UV campaign

South Australian research shows that temperature, cloud cover, shade and time of day are more likely to be used when deciding whether to protect the skin than UV levels, with less than 1 in 10 South Australians using UV levels to guide their sun protection behaviours.  Even on a cool and cloudy day, UV levels in South Australia can be at skin damaging levels.

The my UV campaign is based around a 30 second commercial featuring a cartoon man walking outdoors with his dog.  The commercial shows the man walking in boardshorts and as he continues walking a hat, shirt and long shorts appear on his body and he applies sunscreen when the UV index shows 3 or above.  As the sun sets and the UV level drops he ends up back in his boardshorts.  The commercial aims to raise awareness of protecting the skin when UV levels reach 3 and above.

The majority of skin cancer is caused by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun and artificial sources such as solariums. 
UV radiation is strong enough to damage skin cells and cause skin cancer.

UV radiation

Sunlight is made up of light, heat and ultraviolet (UV) radiation. Visible rays of the sun are light-giving rays, while infrared rays provide heat. 

UV radiation is the part of sunlight that causes sunburn and skin damage and leads to premature ageing and skin cancer. There are three types of naturally occurring ultraviolet rays - UVA, UVB and UVC.

  • UVA radiation penetrates deep into the skin, affecting the living skin cells that lie under your skin's surface. UVA causes long-term damage like wrinkles, blotchiness, sagging and discoloration, and also contributes to skin cancer.
  • UVB radiation penetrates the top layer of skin and is the cause of skin tanning, sunburn, and skin cancer.

UVA and UVB are of concern because of their potential to cause skin cancer. UVC does not reach the earth's surface and is absorbed or scattered in the atmosphere.

Can I feel UV radiation?

UV radiation can not be seen or felt. UV levels are not related to air temperature; maximum UV levels occur around midday when the sun is directly overhead. High levels of UV radiation also occur on cool days.

Remember, you can still get burnt on cloudy days, especially if cloud cover is thin. Cloud scatters the UV radiation in all directions and although you receive less direct UV radiation, you may receive more indirectly. Heavy cloud does decrease the amount of UV radiation, while scattered patchy cloud has little or no effect on UV radiation levels.

When is UV radiation most damaging?

UV radiation is dangerous for skin when it reaches a UV Index level of three or above. UV radiation levels are strongest over the middle hours of the day – between 10 am and 3 pm – but are also strong enough outside of these hours to cause skin damage. UV radiation is strongest during the months that the sun is directly overhead. In South Australia, from August to May, UV levels across the day range from moderate to extreme on most days.

How is UV measured? 

UV radiation levels are divided into low (one to two), moderate (three to five), high (six to seven), very high (eight to 10) and extreme (11 and above). Once UV reaches a moderate level it is strong enough to cause damage to the skin.

A UV Index level of three is high enough to cause skin damage, so it is important to protect your skin when the UV radiation level is three and above. The higher the UV radiation levels, the less time it takes for skin damage to occur.

The Bureau of Meteorology predicts UV levels with the weather forecast every day and produces the SunSmart UV Alert.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. About two in three Australians will be diagnosed with some form of skin cancer before the age of 70. Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia.

Almost 770,000 new cases of BCC and SCC are treated each year. BCC can develop in young people, but it is most common in people over 40. SCC occurs mostly in people over 50.

More than 12,000 cases of melanoma are diagnosed each year, with the highest incidence in people over 40, especially men. It is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in people aged 15–29.

Who is at risk?

Anyone can develop skin cancer. However, the risk is higher in people who have:

  • fair skin, especially if it burns easily, is prone to freckles and doesn’t tan
  • red or fair hair and light-coloured eyes
  • experienced short, intense periods of exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, e.g. on holidays or playing sport, especially if it caused sunburn
  • actively tanned or used solariums
  • worked outdoors
  • a weakened immune system, which could be caused by taking certain medicines after an organ transplant or being HIV-positive
  • numerous moles on their body
  • dysplastic naevi
  • a personal or family history of skin cancer.

People with olive or very dark skin naturally have more protection against UV radiation because their skin produces more melanin than fair-skinned people. However, they can still develop skin cancer. 

Finding skin cancer early gives you the best chance of successful treatment. It is important that you know your skin well so you can notice any changes early. It is recommended that you check all of your skin regularly and see your doctor as soon as possible if you notice any changes.

Cancer Council recommends that:

  • the general public, particularly those aged 40 and over, check all areas of their skin, including skin not normally exposed to the sun. Look for changes in shape, colour or size of a pigmented lesion or a new lesion regularly.  Individuals should seek assistance from others to check difficult to see areas such as their back.
  • individuals who are concerned about skin cancer risk or skin changes should seek advice from a medical practitioner and discuss their risk and the need for medical checks or self-examination.
  • outdoor workers should be encouraged to regularly check their skin for suspicious spots. It is important that workers know what their skin looks like normally so changes will be noticed.

Checking for skin cancer

Different skin cancers behave differently so when checking your skin it is important to include your whole body. A squamous cell carcinoma is likely to develop on skin most often exposed to the sun, such as the face and forearms. A melanoma can develop anywhere, even on areas not exposed to sunlight.

How to check your skin
Everyone can check their own skin. It helps to have someone assist you with those difficult to see places. If you have a partner or someone you feel comfortable with, ask them to help you.

With a bit of practice most people can check their whole body in 15 minutes. Why not check your skin when you are getting dressed or getting out of the shower?

When you examine your skin you will need a full length mirror and a hand-held mirror. You will need to undress completely. The room you use will need to be well lit.

There is no specific skin examination method; the following steps are suggested by the Australasian College of Dermatologists.

Face, head and neck

  • Check your whole face including around the nose, lips and ears.
  • The scalp can be difficult to examine. Make sure you part your hair. Try using a hand-held blow dryer or a comb to lift the hair from the scalp or ask your partner or friend to help.
  • Turn your back to the full-length mirror and use your hand-held mirror to check the back of your neck and ears.

Torso – front, back and sides

  • Raise your arms and look at your right and left side.

Arms and hands

  • Hold your hands with the palms face up. Look at your fingers and spaces between the fingers.
  • Turn your hand over and examine the backs of your hands, fingers, spaces between the fingers and fingernails.
  • Face the mirror and look at your forearms and upper arms. Bend elbows to look at the undersides.

Legs and buttocks

  • With your back towards the full-length mirror, look at your buttocks and the backs of your thighs and lower legs.
  • Turn and face the mirror and check the front of your thighs and lower legs.
  • Sit down and cross one leg over the other.  Examine the top of your foot, the toes, toenails and spaces between the toes. Then use the hand-held mirror to look at the sole or bottom of your foot. Repeat the step with your other foot.

Cancer Council recommends all adults should check their skin and moles every 3 months. Those at risk should have a trained doctor examine them at least once a year. Melanomas can develop in between visits to your skin cancer doctor, therefore you should know how to check your own skin and moles.

 

For those who have had any skin cancer, it is recommended to have their skin checked every 6 months for the first 2 years after any confirmed skin cancer, then every year after that.

Obviously, if you find any new lesion, or unsure about it, you need to come earlier.