Australia has amongst the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. In 2011 over 2000 Australians died from skin cancer11. The good news is that most skin cancer can be prevented.
Cancer Council ACT recommends five simple steps to protect skin (and eyes) against sun damage when the UV levels reach 3 and above (see Daily SunSmart UV Alert).
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slop on SPF30+ sunscreen – make sure it is broad spectrum and water resistant. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and reapply every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat – that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade.
- Slide on some sunglasses – make sure they meet Australian Standards 1067.
Sun protection is recommended in Canberra from the beginning of August through to the end of May for part or most of each day. Remember, outdoor activities and events should be minimised if at all possible between 11am and 3 pm during the daylight saving/summer period when UV levels peak in Canberra.
Skin cancer risk
People of all ages are at risk of skin cancer. The risk increases as you get older because older people have generally had more sun (UV) exposure than younger people. The most serious form of skin cancer, melanoma, is strongly related to intermittent bursts of sun exposure and sunburn. However, the total amount of sun exposure over a lifetime is also an important factor.1
The good news is that most skin cancers can be prevented by adopting appropriate sun protection behaviour. Skin cancer can also almost always be cured if detected early. Australian survival rates from melanoma are generally higher than in other countries because we are more aware of the signs of skin cancer and detect them earlier.
How do you know when to be SunSmart?
Whenever ultraviolet (UV) radiation levels reach 3 (moderate) and above sun protection is required. 2 At that level UV radiation can damage unprotected skin and lead to skin cancer. In the ACT from August to May, UV radiation levels reach 3 and above for part or most of each day. Cancer Council ACT also recommends minimising time outdoors if practicable between 11am to 3 pm during daylight saving/summer time when annual UV levels are at their peak and the risk of sunburn with it.
SunSmart app - understand when sun protection is required each day in Canberra
To understand what time of the day UV levels in Canberra are strong enough to damage you and your family's skin when spending time outdoors simply download and familiarise yourself with the free SunSmart app. The SunSmart app displays very clearly the time of the day when UV levels are forecast to reach 3 and above in Canberra- this is the time to be SunSmart. It also displays real time UV too.
Protecting yourself from UV radiation
To protect against skin damage and potential skin cancer, protect yourself when UV Index level reach 3 and above, use a combination of these five sun protection measures, never just rely on just one:
- Slip on some sun protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
- Slop on SPF30 or higher sunscreen: make sure it is broad spectrum and water resistant. Put it on 15-20 minutes before you go outdoors and reapply at least every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade whenever you can.
- Slide on some wrap around sunglasses: make sure they meet Australian Standard 1067.
Winter in Canberra
Around June and July, UV Index levels in the ACT are ‘low’ (below 3).3 Therefore sun protection is generally not necessary during these months in Canberra unless you are spending extended time outdoors ie working.
During this winter period, to support vitamin D production it is recommended that people aim to get outdoors during the middle of the day with some skin uncovered on most days of the week. Being physically active while outdoors during this period will further assist with the production of vitamin D.4
Skin cancer in Australia- A quick overview
- Skin cancer treatment in Australia costs over $500 million each year and climbing.5
- In 2002, skin cancers accounted for over 80% of all cancers diagnosed in Australia. 6
- Melanoma rates in Australia are around four times as high as in Canada, the US and the UK.6
- Melanoma is the third most common cancer in women and men. 6
- In young people aged 12-24 years, melanoma is the most common diagnosed cancer. 7 In those aged 15-44 years, melanoma and breast cancer are the most common cancers.6
In Australia, sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes on a fine January day.3,8 The most likely place on the body for adults to get sunburnt is the arms and hands, then the head and neck. The least likely body parts for sunburn are the legs and feet. 9
UV radiation can be very high even on cool or cloudy days, when we least expect to get burnt.
UV radiation cannot be seen or felt. It is not hot (the heat you feel comes from infrared radiation). The only way you will know what UV levels are reaching during the day is by searching out for the SunSmart UV Alert.
All types of sunburn, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage and can lay the groundwork for skin cancer to develop later in life. Further sunburn only increases your risk of skin cancer.10 There is no such thing as a healthy tan!
Further information and resources
This information is based on current available evidence at the time of review. For further information or advice contact Cancer Council 13 11 20.
This information can be photocopied for distribution.
1. Liley JB & McKenzie RL. Where on earth has the highest UV. Presented at UV Radiation and its Effects: An Update. Dunedin, NZ: NIWA 2006.
2. World Health Organization. Global Solar UV Index: A Practical Guide: A Joint Recommendation of the World Health Organization, World Meteorological Organization, United Nations Environment Programme, and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection. Geneva: WHO, 2002.
3. Samanek AJ et al. Estimates of beneficial and harmful sun exposure times during the year for major Australian population centres. Med J Aust 2006; 184(7): 338–41.
4. How much sun is enough? Getting the balance right Vitamin D and Sun Exposure Brochure (2016). ACOD, ANZBMS, OA and CCA.
5. Fransen M et al. Non-melanoma skin cancer in Australia. MJA 2012. 565-8
6. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and Australasian Association of Cancer Registries. Cancer in Australia:2006. Canberra: AIHW, 2007.
7. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Young Australians: Their health and wellbeing 2007 Canberra: AIHW, 2007.
8. Roy CR, Gies P. Ozone depletion and its calculation effect on solar UVB radiation levels for some Australian cities. In: Health Effects of Ozone Layer Depletion, Report of the NHMRC. Canberra: NHMRC, 1989.
9. Cancer Council Australia. National Sun Survey. Sydney: CCA, 2004, 2007, 2011, 2014.
10. Armstrong BK. How sun exposure causes skin cancer: an epidemiological perspective. In: Hill D, Elwood JM, English DR, eds. Prevention of Skin Cancer. The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004: 89–116.