Tips for protecting your skin from the sun
Sun safety and skin protection are part and parcel of living in Australia. We know that over 95% of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which mostly comes from the sun.*1
UV radiation is something that we can’t see or feel, and it’s not always related to how hot it is. Here in Australia, we experience high levels of UV radiation from the sun at all times of the year. And while it can cause sunburn, it can also cause damage to your skin that you can’t actually see – and that damage can stack up over time.
How to be sun smart
Many of us have grown up with the strong sun smart messaging of slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide. These are the key actions each of us can take to protect our skin from the sun to help prevent skin cancer. The best protection you can give your skin includes a combination of these five sun protection measures:2
- Slip on sun-protective clothing that covers as much of your skin as possible – think long-sleeve shirts with a collar to protect the back of your neck as well as your shoulders and arms. Clothing that uses fabrics with a high UV protection factor (UPF) rating are good choices for protecting your skin.1
- Slop on sunscreen every time you spend time outside. Make sure you use a broad-spectrum sunscreen, which protects against both UVA and UVB radiation, that has a sun-protection factor (SPF) of 30 or higher, and one that is water-resistant. You should apply a generous amount of sunscreen – we’re talking a full teaspoon (that’s 5 mL) for each arm and leg, front and back of your body, and your face, meaning you’ll need a good 7 teaspoons (or 35 mL) to cover yourself effectively from head to toe. Sunscreen should be applied about 20 minutes before you actually hit the park or beach to make sure that it has time to do its thing before your skin sees the sun, and it should be reapplied at least every 2 hours.1
- Slap on a hat to protect your head, face, ears, and neck – preferably one with a broad brim or that stylish legionnaire flap at the back to give you good coverage.1
- Seek shade wherever possible when you are out in the sun, whether that’s finding shelter under a shady tree or use an umbrella or canopy to provide some shade when you’re at the park or beach. Remember that shade on its own is not enough to really protect your skin, as UV radiation can reflect off different surfaces.1
- Slide on a pair of sunglasses to protect your eyes – and the skin around your eyes – from harmful UV radiation. Sunglasses are not just a summer accessory – they should be worn all throughout the year and ones that give full coverage or wrap around offer the best protection.1
What else can you do?
Beyond the slip, slop, slap, seek, and slide actions, here’s a couple of final tips to consider. It’s not just UV radiation from the sun that’s the problem: you should not use solariums or tanning beds, as these use artificial UV radiation that can also cause skin damage.1
Skin damage from the sun is still possible even when it’s not hot and sunny because damage comes from the UV radiation not the heat or light. The UV levels can be the same on a cold or cloudy or windy day as they are on a hot, sunny day. To make life easier for yourself, you can check daily UV levels for the area where you live with recommended times to use sun protection or avoid sun exposure.2
*Cancer Council. Understanding Skin Cancer. December 2021.1
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- Cancer Council. Understanding Skin Cancer. December 2021. Available: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/types-of-cancer/skin-cancer [accessed October 2023].
- Cancer Council. Preventing skin cancer [webpage]. Available: https://www.cancer.org.au/cancer-information/causes-and-prevention/sun-safety/preventing-skin-cancer [accessed October 2023].