7 common sun protection mistakes

sunbathers at bondi

Think you know all about sun protection? Well think again, as one in eight adults still get sunburnt on summer weekends

In Australia we love our warm summers and outdoors lifestyle – but we also have one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. We all know that we need to “slip, slop, slap, seek (shade) and slide (on sunglasses)” – yet around one in eight adults gets sunburnt on summer weekends. So what’s going wrong? Here, the Cancer Council Australia outlines 7 common sun protection mistakes to avoid this summer.

1. Thinking you don’t need sun protection on cloudy or cooler days.

Most of us remember our sun protection when it’s a hot, sunny day – but did you know that you can get sunburnt even if it’s cool, cloudy or windy?  Sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, not the temperature, so it’s UV, not heat that you need to think about when considering sun protection. Sun damage is also possible on cloudy days as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds – and it may be even more intense due to reflection off the clouds. Australians often blame red faces after a windy day on ‘windburn’ but in fact there is no such thing – it’s more likely to be sunburn.

Sun protection is required whenever UV levels are 3 or above. Check your local weather forecast, or use Cancer Council Victoria’s SunSmart app for your local UV information.

2. Forgetting to slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.

Most of us use sunscreen, and it is an important tool to help prevent skin damage – but it shouldn’t be the only way you protect yourself from the sun. Just because you have slopped on sunscreen doesn’t mean you can sit outside in the sun all day! Sunscreen isn’t a suit of armourso don’t rely on it alone. Good sun protection includes slipping on covering clothing, slapping on a broadbrim hat, seeking shade and sliding on those sunglasses. Do all five of these and you will be much less likely to end up red-faced.

3. Not using enough sunscreen.

Sunscreen needs to be applied properly to gain full protection, but a whopping 85% of Australians use it incorrectly. Cancer Council recommends using a broad- spectrum, water-resistant SPF30 or higher sunscreen. It should be applied 20 minutes before sun exposure to create the intended protective barrier, and should be applied liberally and evenly to clean, dry skin. If you apply your sunscreen and jump straight in the water it could wash right off!

Many Australians are surprised to learn how much sunscreen they need. For an adult, the recommended application is 35ml, or seven teaspoons: that’s 5ml (or approximately one teaspoon) for each arm and leg, your body front, back, and face (including neck and ears).

4. Forgetting to reapply sunscreen.

Sunscreen should always be reapplied every two hours, regardless of the level of water resistance. It is also important to reapply sunscreen after swimming, playing sport, sweating and towel drying, as these can all cause the product to rub off, putting you at risk of sunburn.

5. Thinking that using an SPF50 will allow you to spend more time in the sun.

Sunscreen should never be used to extend the amount of time you spend in the sun. Regardless of the SPF level, you can’t just pop on sunscreen and expect to be protected all day. It’s a common myth that SPF50+ will allow you to stay outside longer. It may sound like there is a big difference between SPF50+ and SPF30+ sunscreen, however, SPF50 really only offers marginally better protection from UVB radiation than SPF30+ sunscreens. SPF30+ filters about 96.7% of UV radiation, while SPF50+ filters 98%. That’s why Cancer Council recommends applying sunscreen that is SPF30 or higher before heading outside, every two hours, and after swimming, sweating, or towel drying.

6. Thinking you need more UV to get vitamin D.

There’s no need to sunbake for your vitamin D needs. In summer, most Australians get enough vitamin D with just a few minutes of sun exposure while completing everyday tasks, like walking to the car going to the shops. Sensible sun protection shouldn’t put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Some people are at risk of vitamin D deficiency – these include Australians with naturally very dark skin or who spend a lot of time indoors – if you believe you’re one of them, speak to your doctor or health professional, but never sunbake and put yourself at risk of skin cancer.

7. Thinking you’re not at risk of getting skin cancer.

Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in world, with two in three Australians diagnosed with skin cancer by the time they are 70. More than 95% of melanomas (the most deadly form of skin cancer) are caused by UV damage, so being SunSmart is crucial.

Some Australians mistakenly believe that if they tan – not burn – they aren’t at risk. Tanning is a sign that you have been exposed to too much UV radiation (from the sun or solarium). It’s a sign of skin damage – not a sign of health.. UV damage keeps adding up, and over time,  will eventually cause loss of elasticity (wrinkles), sagging, yellowish discolouration and even brown patches to appear on your skin. Worst of all, it increases your risk of skin cancer.

We are all at risk of developing skin cancer, but the good news is we can all reduce our risk by making sure we are properly protected whenever the UV level is three or above. This summer, look after yourself by slipping on covering clothing, slopping on a broad-spectrum SPF30 or higher sunscreen, slapping on a broad-brim hat, seeking shade when possible, and sliding on sunglasses.

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