Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with a least two in three people being diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70.
It is estimated that if we reduce our lifetime exposure to UV radiation by 20 per cent, Australia would have about one third fewer cases of skin cancer. However, exposure to small amounts of sunlight is also beneficial for good health.
Recent research has shown that some Australians deliberately expose themselves to the sun over the warmer months because they are concerned about vitamin D deficiency.
So how much sunlight is enough given that sun exposure is the cause of around 99 per cent of all non-melanoma skin cancers and 95 per cent of melanomas in Australia?
When do I need sun protection?
Sun protection is required when the UV is three and above. In Tasmania, this is from the beginning of September through to the end of April. As the weather warms up and the UV index increases, it is important to protect yourself from the sun.
Sensible sun protection when the UV is at three or above does not put most Australians at risk of vitamin D deficiency.
To avoid skin damage, it is best to follow the below five steps:
1. SLIP on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
2. SLOP on some broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ (or greater) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards, more frequently if you’re heavily sweating or towel drying. Apply at least a teaspoon of sunscreen for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears.
3. SLAP on a hat – broad brim, bucket or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears is best. Caps and visors do not provide adequate protection and are not considered suitable.
4. SEEK SHADE from the sun wherever possible, especially between 10am and 3pm when the UV is at its peak.
5. SLIDE on some sunglasses that are polarised, close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses and meet Australian standards.
What is vitamin D?
Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UV radiation from the sun. We need vitamin D to maintain good health, particularly to keep bones and muscles strong.
The UV index is an international standard of measurement of the strength of UV radiation from the sun on a particular place on a particular day. UV levels are low in the early morning as the sun comes up, increasing around the middle of the day when the sun is at its highest. It then decreases as the sun gets lower in the sky.
When the skin is exposed to UV radiation from the sun, vitamin D is formed through a series of processes that start in the skin. You can’t see or feel UV radiation so it can be difficult to know when you need sun protection. Generally, you are safe if the level is below three, however it is recommended that if you work outside for long periods of time or near the water and snow that you apply sun protection.
In the northern parts of Australia, maximum daily UV levels are above three all year round, so sun protection is needed on a daily basis. In southern parts of the country, there are times of year when sun protection is generally not required.
When UV levels are three or above, most people need just a few minutes of sun exposure, such as walking from the office to get lunch, to get enough vitamin D. When UV levels fall below three, you can maintain your vitamin D intake by spending short periods outdoors and being physically active.
The Bureau of Meteorology reports its SunSmart UV Alert daily on its website.
The Cancer Council also offers a UV Index widget for business websites around Australia, or alternatively, the free SunSmart app for mobile phones is available from Google Play or the App store.
For more information about skin cancer, UV radiation and being smart in the sun, visit http://www.cancertas.org.au/
Contributed: Cancer Council Tasmania