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Sun protection

sun; burn; skin; tan; tanning; suntan; fake; beach; screen; pimples; flake; cancer; sunburn; UV; UVA; UVB; UVC; hat; glasses; sunglasses; salons;


We Aussies can be a strange bunch sometimes. We know the damage the sun does to our skin and yet every year thousands of Australians, especially young Australians, slowly bake on the beach. The result being... half of all Australians will get skin cancer. Most of these cancers are simple to treat and do not cause ongoing problems, but sometimes people get melanomas which are very serious.

Spending a short time in the sun is actually important. We get valuable Vitamin D from sunlight. Problems happen when we spend too much time in the sun without protection.

When you think about it, tanning is really just a fad. Before the 20th century, it was cool to look as pale as possible. It meant you were probably rich. In the 1900's everyone wanted to have a tan.

sun safe

Cancer Council Australia recommends:

  • Slip on protective clothing
  • Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
  • Slap on a hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on some sunglasses

Remember to take extra care between 10am and 3pm when UV radiation is most intense.

Cancer Council Australia 'Be SunSmart'


Suntans are actually a sign that your skin is being damaged. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the part of sunlight that causes this. There are three types of UV rays – UVA, UVB and UVC.

UVB rays are the main ones to worry about. They cause:

  • sunburn
  • suntan
  • skin damage (wrinkles, brown age spots, leathery skin)
  • skin cancer.

UVA rays also cause skin damage. UVC rays do not reach the earth from the sun, but can come from arc welders and sterilising lamps.

Different types of skin have different levels of protection. People with fair skin and blonde or red hair have the least protection. Those with dark skin and black hair have the most. This does not mean that people with a darker complexion cannot get damaged skin. They also need protection from the sun.


Avoid the sun

  • Try to stay out of the sun between 10am and 3pm. These are the peak times and the times when the sun will do the most damage.
  • If you are planning something, a BBQ for example, plan to have it in the late afternoon.
  • Watch out on cool sunny days when you don't feel as hot as you may sit in the sun too long. The sun will still do damage even if you don't feel hot.

Cover up

  • Wear long sleeves, high collars and long pants when you are out in the sun. Tight weave is important to block the sun. Some clothes may even have UV information on them. The higher the UVP number, the better the protection. If you can see through the cloth, the sun will be able to get through.
  • Wear a hat. This will protect the common areas for skin cancer: neck, ears, temples, lips, nose and face. Hats with a broad brim all the way around, legionaire hats and bucket hats are best.
  • Wear sunglasses. Wrap-arounds give the best protection. Check to see they meet the Australian Standards – Eye Protection Factor (EPF) 10.


  • Sunscreens will not block out 100% of UV rays, so it is important to also cover up. That said, sunscreens should be used everyday as a means of protection. It has been estimated that 80% of sun exposure happens doing everyday things like walking to and from your home or during your lunch break.
  • Sun Protection Factor (SPF) shows how much protection the sunscreen can provide. SPF-15 filters about 93.3% of UVB rays. SPF-30+ filters out 96.3%, so they are not twice as good, but 30+ is the one to use.
  • Broad-spectrum sunscreens filter out UVA rays also.
  • Lotions and gels can dry out the skin and they may irritate you. Creams moisturise, but this can make acne worse. Try different types to see which is best for your skin.
  • Water-resistant sunscreen should be used if you are going swimming and also if you will be doing anything that will make you sweat a lot.
  • Put the sunscreen on clean dry skin 20 minutes before going into the sun.
  • Use lots of sunscreen. About one teaspoon for each arm and leg and half a teaspoon for the face, ears and neck. Reapply every 2 hours.
  • If you wipe some off, by blowing your nose for example, reapply.
  • Sunscreens last between 2 and 3 years in the tube. But they get wrecked if the cap is left off or if they are left in the sun for a long time.

Note: Some UV rays will reach your skin even with sunscreen on. If you stay in the sun too long your skin will still get damaged.


  • Use water to cool the burnt area – 20 minutes under cold running water.
  • Don't pick blisters, as they might become infected.
  • See your doctor if you have a bad burn that covers much of your body.
  • Antiseptic creams should only be used if your doctor tells you to.
  • Anaesthetic creams may help a bit, but they can sting and irritate the skin.
  • Take some paracetamol to ease the pain.
  • Ask your chemist or doctor about anti-inflammatory creams.
  • If an area is weeping you may need to use a burn dressing – ask your pharmacist.

Tanning salons (solariums)

  • A solarium is an artificial tanning machine that uses very high levels of UV radiation to induce a tan.
  • Any radiation which causes tanning, including 'sun beds', tanning beds or solariums, will cause damage to the skin.
  • The use of solariums has been clearly related to the development of skin cancer - in particular melanoma.

More information

For more information about the regulations and the Standard have a look at information on the Cancer Council SA website: http://www.cancersa.org.au/aspx/Solariums.aspx


Fake tan

  • Using fake tan products is safer than cooking in the sun or under a sun bed.
  • Skin dyes are painted, rubbed or sprayed onto the skin. They last for 3 to 6 days.
  • They do not give any protection from the sun!
  • They have not been fully proved to be safe, however, so think carefully about using them.
  • If they don't give you the colour you expected you will be stuck with it for a few days.
  • Research has shown that people with fake tan are at a higher risk of sunburn, because they are less likely to cover up.
  • There are some chemicals that can be taken to make the skin more sensitive to sunlight. These should never be taken to speed up a tan.

So what does having a tan mean to you? Do you think it means you look healthy and wealthy? Now that you know a bit about the damage the sun can do, don't you think not having a tan makes more sense? It's a sign of healthy skin. If you look after the biggest organ of your body, it will look healthy and beautiful for years to come.




Cancer Council SA 'All about sunscreens'

Cancer Council Australia Position Statement
'Fake tans and UV radiation'.

World Health Organisation: Ultraviolet Radiation and INTERSUN programme

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor or other health professional.
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