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5 sun safety myths debunked
Posted 29 November 2019
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. It’s an almost preventable disease, yet each year it claims the life of more than 2,000 Australians.
Knowing how to protect yourself from skin cancer is so important when it comes to reducing your risk.
Cancer Council SA’s community education coordinator Diem Tran sorts the fact from fiction about being sun safe.
1. Sun damage isn’t possible on windy, cloudy or cool days
You can get sun damage on windy, cloudy or cool days. Sun damage is caused by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, not temperature.
UV radiation can penetrate some clouds and may even be more intense due to reflection off the clouds.
When the UV is forecast to be 3 and above, it’s important to protect yourself from the sun. You can check the daily sun protection times online, in the weather section of the newspaper or on the free SunSmart app.
2. Water resistant sunscreen won’t come off in the water
Sunscreen that’s labelled ‘water resistant’ can still be washed off and wiped away, both in and out of the water.
Regardless of its water resistant properties, sunscreen should be reapplied at least every two hours, or more often if being wiped away after towel drying.
3. Plenty of sun exposure is required to avoid vitamin D deficiency
Australians shouldn’t expose themselves to potentially harmful UV in order to get more vitamin D. Research suggests that prolonged sun exposure doesn’t increase your vitamin D levels, but it does increase the risk of skin cancer.
From August-April, most people in South Australia get enough vitamin D with just a few minutes of sun exposure while completing everyday tasks, like walking to the car or shops.
From May-July when UV levels are below 3, sun protection is generally not required. Spending time outdoors without sun protection while doing some physical activity may help maintain vitamin D levels.
4. Only sun seekers get skin cancer
Excessive exposure to the sun doesn’t just happen when deliberately seeking a tan.
In a high UV environment like Australia, you can be exposed to dangerous levels of UV radiation during all sorts of daily activities, such as working outdoors, gardening, walking the dog, mowing the lawn or having a picnic. This sun exposure adds up over time, increasing your risk of skin cancer.
5. If you tan but don’t burn, you don’t need to bother with sun protection
There’s no such thing as a safe tan. If skin darkens, it’s a sign of skin cells in trauma, even if there is no redness or peeling.
The skin darkens as a way of trying to protect itself because the UV rays are damaging living cells. If you tan easily, you are still at risk of skin cancer and need to use sun protection when UV is 3 or above.
What are some basic sun safety tips people need to know?
Diem advises, “Slip, slop, slap, seek and slide is the best protection to use.”
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards.
- Slap on a hat, specifically a broad brim hat to protect your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade.
- Slide on some sunglasses, but make sure they meet Australian Standards.
By using the five sun protection methods, you’ll have the best chance of keeping your skin safe from the sun.
Do people need to protect themselves in winter as well as summer?
Diem says, “UV levels are lower in winter than in summer, however any time UV is 3 and above, sun protection is recommended.”
Typically in South Australia, UV reaches 3 and above every day from the beginning of August through to the end of April, which includes part of winter.
“Sun protection is recommended at all life stages to reduce the risk of skin cancer, so it doesn’t matter if you are five or 55 years old,” says Diem.
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