Hat use down, sunscreen use up


three girls on beach, only one has hat

Fewer Australians are using hats to protect themselves from the sun and, as a result, are getting sunburnt on their face, head, nose or ears, Cancer Council research shows.

The data from Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection Survey reveals that just 44% of Australian adults wear a hat when exposed to UV on summer weekends, down from 48% in 2003.

Australian adults’ use of clothing to protect their skin also decreased and their tendency to seek shade during peak UV times showed no improvement. However, there was also good news, with the survey showing that Australian’s use of sunscreen has increased.

In light of the findings, Cancer Council and the Australasian College of Dermatologists have come together during National Skin Cancer Action week (20-26 November) to remind Australians to be SunSmart by following Cancer Council’s five important steps to sun protection: slip, slop, slap, seek and slide.

CEO of Cancer Council Australia, Professor Sanchia Aranda, says the results show too few Australians are remembering to use a combination of sun protection measures.  

“A four percent drop in hat usage may sound small, but any downward trend is a concern,” she says.

“This latest data shows that over 640,000 Australians have stopped wearing a hat to protect themselves when exposed to UV on weekends and in total almost 10.6 million Australians don’t wear a hat when out in the sun on summer weekends.

“Only one in five adults used three or more sun protection measures during summer, which is a real worry given the prevalence of skin cancer in Australia.

“There can be a tendency from many Australians to slop on some sunscreen and think they are protected all day long. But sunscreen isn’t a suit of armour. It should be your last line of defence – a hat, clothing, sunglasses and shade are also key to protecting your skin,” Prof Aranda says. 

The data also showed some worrying trends indicating that the lack of broadbrim hats and clothing was translating to the places on the body where Australians are sunburnt.

“The research shows that the face, head, nose, or ears are the most common places on the body that Australians get sunburnt, alongside the arms and hands,” Prof Aranda says.

“There’s no doubt that by neglecting to slap on a broadbrim hat Aussies are putting themselves at risk of a potentially deadly skin cancer.”

Australasian College of Dermatologists’ President, Associate Professor Chris Baker, says that dermatologists regularly treat skin cancers that could have been easily prevented through proper sun protection.

“Dermatologists see a lot of skin cancers on the face, ears, head and neck,” A/PRof Baker says.

“These skin cancers are particularly concerning because they can arise quickly and are more difficult to treat. Surgery is the most common treatment, with visible scarring often unavoidable. 

“Other treatments include topical therapy for some early skin cancers through to radiotherapy and chemotherapy for more advanced cancers. Sadly we don’t always get them in time.”

He also urged Australians to keep a close eye on their skin, know what normal spots they have and to keep a watch for any changes.

“It’s important to remember that skin cancer can be prevented and, if detected early, can often be successfully treated. If you notice any changes in size, shape or colour of an existing spot, or the development of a new spot, you should get it checked as soon as possible.”

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