Being the country that lives underneath the thinnest part of the ozone layer, it’s no surprise we have the highest skin cancer rate in the world. Most of the skin cancer damage is from UVA and UVB rays, not to mention the skin damage associated with wrinkles, sagging and pigmentation. We do need some exposure to the sun, as Vitamin D helps our bodies to absorb the necessary calcium for strong bones, muscles and sparkling white teeth, but exposure should be safe and limited.
According to the NSW Cancer Council, around 95-99% of skin cancer cases could have been prevented with regular sun protection. As a result, Specialist Clinics of Australia has created a list of guidelines which will help you be a sun-smart person:
- Stay in the shade from 10 am to 4 pm: The hottest part of the day is when the UV rays are most intense. If you go outdoors at this time, limit the amount of time you spend in direct sunlight.
- Don’t get sunburnt: When you go outside, be sure to protect your skin with sunscreen, hat and clothes. Those pesky UV rays can pass through any weather, including clouds. You can get burnt even when you’re cooling off with a dip in the ocean or pool, so use a waterproof sunscreen and a water-friendly hat whenever possible. If you still happen to get burnt, apply aloe vera or an after-sun lotion as soon as possible. Don’t go near moisturiser though, it’ll make your sunburn worse.
- Wear protective clothing, including sunglasses and hat: This is important for everyone but vital if you have fair skin, are balding or have a history of skin cancer.
- Clothing: Long sleeved shirts, long pants and long skirts cover most of the skin and are the most protective. UV rays can pass through your clothing, but tightly woven fabrics protect better than loosely woven ones, and dry fabric is more protective than wet. A typical light t-shirt usually protects you less than sunscreen with an SPF 15. Some sun-protective clothes and swimming costumes, such as those you can purchase from the Cancer Council, have a label listing for ultraviolet protection factor (UPF).
- Hat: Definitely put on those wide-brim statement hats! We recommend hats with minimum 5 cm brims so you can protect your neck, scalp, forehead, eyes and ears. Another alternative is a cap with a flap at the back and sides of your face. Skin cancers commonly develop on the back of the neck and the ears, so it’s important to protect those areas. Do not rely on woven hats, unless the weave is tight!
- Sunglasses: You need to protect your eye area too, so wear a good pair of sunnies. There’s no need to concern yourself with the colour of the lenses, the protection comes from a clear chemical applied to the lenses, so light or dark are ok.
- Don’t rely on moisturiser, make-up and bronzers to protect you: While many cosmetic products state that they have in-built SPF, these products provide very little protection from UV damage, unless you apply them much more generously than any reasonable person should.
- Keep babies out of direct sunlight: Use hats and protective clothing whenever they’re outdoors. Use sunscreen on children six months or older.
- Educate your children: As soon as they’re old enough to understand the dangers of the sun and when and where to wear sunscreen, help them develop good, sun smart habits.
- Check your skin regularly: Self-examine your skin every month for any changes and have a doctor check every year or as recommended.