FAQs

We have put together a list of the questions we get asked most frequently, and our responses. You might find it useful to view our top 10 most frequently asked questions below or you can browse by topic or visit Skin cancer facts & stats .

Top 10 most frequently asked questions

  1. How can I ensure I am protected from the sun's UV rays?
  2. What's the best way to get my skin checked? Should I see my local doctor or go to a skin clinic or specialist?
  3. Does a tan naturally protect you from the sun?
  4. If I get a 'base tan' from a solarium before summer starts, will it help to stop me burning?
  5. I have heard SunSmart doesn't allow children to go outside and play in the middle of the day. Is this true?
  6. Are nanoparticles in sunscreen increasing my risk of skin cancer?
  7. Is it possible to get sunburnt on cloudy or cool days?
  8. How can I be sure I am getting enough vitamin D?
  9. Can SunSmart sponsor our event by providing free sunscreen and shade structures?
  10. Will I become vitamin D deficient if I use sunscreen?

QUESTION 1: How can I ensure I am protected from the sun's UV rays?

Check the SunSmart UV Alert every day and protect your skin during the sun protection times (when UV levels are 3 or above), even when you are in the sun for short periods.

The UV Alert is available as a SunSmart app, on the SunSmart website, and in the weather section of the daily newspapers.

During the sun protection times, use a combination of the five SunSmart steps:

  • Slip on sun protective clothing that covers as much of your body as possible.
  • Slop on SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen liberally at least 20 minutes before sun exposure. Reapply every two hours when outdoors.
  • Slap on a broad brimmed hat that shades your face, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade.
  • Slide on sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003.

If no alert and no sun protection times are issued, the UV is predicted to be below 3, so aim for 20 minutes outside in the midday winter sun. Ensure as much skin as possible is exposed by wearing short sleeves or shorts – the more skin you have exposed to the sun, the more vitamin D you'll make, so roll up those sleeves.

QUESTION 2: What's the best way to get my skin checked? Should I see my GP or go to a skin clinic or specialist?

It is best to go to your GP to get your skin checked. They can assess your skin spots and monitor changes. If necessary, your GP can refer you to a skin specialist (dermatologist) for further assessment and treatment.

SunSmart does not recommend any particular skin check service providers or skin cancer clinics and we do not run skin clinics. However we do provide prevention and early detection information and support to all Victorians.

Download our Consumer Guide to Skin Clinics to read the main points to consider when choosing or using a skin clinic.

QUESTION 3: Does a tan naturally protect you from the sun?

A tan offers very limited sun protection, usually similar to an SPF3 sunscreen depending on your skin type, which is much lower than the recommended minimum rating of SPF30.

A tan does not protect against DNA damage or premature ageing. It is a sign that your skin cells are trying to protect themselves from UV damage. It is not a sign of good health.

QUESTION 4: If I get a ‘base tan' from a solarium before summer starts, will it help to stop me burning?

Solariums emit UV radiation that is up to six times stronger than the midday sun.

Research shows that using solariums before the age of 35 boosts the risk of melanoma by 59%.

Commercial solariums will be banned in Victoria from 1 January 2015 and in South Australia and New South Wales from 31 December 2014. While there is no firm announcements it is expected other states will follow.

There is no such thing as a safe tan – a tan is a sign of your skin cells in trauma.

QUESTION 5: I have heard SunSmart doesn't allow children to go outside and play in the middle of the day. Is this true?

Most of the sun's UV radiation reaches us during the middle part of the day. During this time period, UV levels are most intense. We advise carers/teachers to be mindful of peak UV times, particularly from September to April when the UV is the most intense in Victoria, and try scheduling outdoor activities in the mornings or afternoons (if possible), when the UV is lower.

Active, outdoor play is important for health and development. Outdoor activities are safe as long as time spent in direct sunlight during periods when the UV is 3 or above is minimised whenever possible – plenty of shade, combined with the use of appropriate hats, clothing and sunscreen help to protect children from getting sunburnt and tanned.

SunSmart recommends applying sunscreen every two hours so that you can be sure it has a good chance of providing the best level of protection. It's an important lesson to teach children that before they go outdoors, they must grab their hat and apply sunscreen. Children can learn to apply their own sunscreen and could be matched up with a sunscreen buddy to help them.

From May to August  in Victoria, when the UV is usually below 3 all day, is a great time for children to get outdoors, roll up their sleeves and top up their vitamin D levels.

QUESTION 6: Are nanoparticles in sunscreen increasing my risk of skin cancer?

Nanotechnology has been used in sunscreens for many years. Sunscreen formulas and their components are regulated through the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). In early 2009, the TGA conducted an updated review of the scientific literature in relation to the use of nanoparticulate zinc oxide and titanium dioxide in sunscreens. The TGA review concluded that the potential for titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles in sunscreens to cause adverse effects depends primarily upon the ability of the nanoparticles to reach viable skin cells. To date, the current weight of evidence, as reviewed by the TGA suggests that titanium dioxide and zinc oxide nanoparticles do not reach viable skin cells; rather, they remain on the surface of the skin and in the outer layer of the skin that is composed of non-viable cells.

More information about nanoparticles and Cancer Council's position on chemicals in sunscreen.

QUESTION 7: Is it possible to get sunburnt on cloudy or cool days?

Yes. Sunburn is caused by UV radiation not temperature therefore even on a cooler day in summer, the UV level can be intense. You can also get sunburnt on cloudy days, as UV radiation can penetrate some clouds, and may even be more intense due to reflection from the bottom of the clouds.

Check the SunSmart UV Alert every day and protect your skin during the sun protection times (when UV levels are 3 or above), even when you are in the sun for short periods.

The UV Alert is available as a SunSmart app, on the SunSmart website, and in the weather section of the daily newspapers.

QUESTION 8: How can I be sure I am getting enough vitamin D?

Vitamin D helps to maintain healthy bones and muscles. UV radiation from the sun is the best natural source of vitamin D.

From September to April, average UV levels are 3 and above in Victoria, which is enough to cause skin and eye damage and, ultimately, skin cancer. During these months, most Victorians need just a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon to help with vitamin D levels. Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.

From May to August UV levels are generally low (below 3) in Victoria so sun protection is not required unless near reflective surfaces such as snow, outside for extended periods or when UV levels reach 3 and above.

During these months, most Victorians need between two and three hours of midday winter sun exposure spread over each week to help with vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need more than this.

Those at risk of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • People with naturally very dark skin
  • Babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers (especially breastfed babies)
  • People with little or no sun exposure such as those who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons
  • Older Victorians and people who are housebound or in institutional care

If you are concerned about your vitamin D levels, visit your doctor. Levels can be checked with a simple blood to ensure they are adequate (≥50nmoL). Options such as supplements can be discussed depending on your individual circumstances. Never try to boost vitamin D levels through excessive UV exposure or through using solariums as both are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer.

Based on the Victorian Department of Health definitions of vitamin D deficiency and adequacy, a good level of vitamin D is 50nmol/L or above (this is measured by the amount of vitamin D serum in the blood, known as 25-OHD) and a severe deficiency is less than 12.5 nmol/L.

Check out the free SunSmart app  that allows users to find out if they are getting enough sun from May to August to help with vitamin D levels, and alerts the user of their daily sun protection needs.

QUESTION 9: Can SunSmart sponsor our event by providing free sunscreen and shade structures?

SunSmart is a program run by Cancer Council Victoria, a not for profit organisation, and as such do not have a large amount of resources available to sponsor events.

If you are seeking sunscreen or shade for an event, please see Event Support for ideas.

QUESTION 10: Will I become vitamin D deficient if I use sunscreen?

Sunscreen use should not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. When UV levels are 3 and above, most people get enough vitamin D through normal activity, even with sunscreen. Prolonged use of sunscreen has been shown to not affect long term vitamin D levels – this is because most people generally do not apply enough sunscreen and often forget to reapply.

In summer, just a few minutes of sun exposure outside peak UV periods provides adequate vitamin D. During winter, most Victorians need two to three hours a week of midday winter sun exposure spread over a week to help with vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.

Frequently asked questions by topic

Ultraviolet radiation

Can I feel UV radiation?

The sun sends out visible light, infrared and UV radiation. Our eyes see the visible light as sunlight. Our skin feels the warmth of infrared radiation. Our skin cannot however detect UV radiation – we cannot see or feel it so it can damage our skin without us knowing. When people say they ‘feel themselves getting burnt' or they ‘feel a sting in the sun', they are confusing infrared radiation with UV radiation.

There are three types of UV radiation, categorised by wavelength.

  • UVA can cause sunburn, DNA (cell) damage in the skin and skin cancer.
  • UVB causes skin damage and skin cancer. Ozone stops most UVB from reaching the earth's surface.
  • UVC is the most dangerous type of UV. Ozone in the atmosphere absorbs all UVC so none reaches the earth's surface.

Is temperature related to levels of UV radiation?

Temperature relates to the amount of infrared radiation present in sunlight, not UV radiation. Temperature should not be used as a guide to when sun protection is needed. When the temperature is cool, it means there is less infrared radiation, but UV levels can still be high.

Why does Australia have high levels of UV radiation?

Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world because we are close to the equator and have a lot of clear blue-sky days. The Earth's orbit also takes countries in the southern hemisphere (Australia included) closer to the sun in their summertime than countries in the northern hemisphere during their summer.

How does UV radiation from the sun reach me on the ground?

UV radiation can reach you in a direct path from the sun. The closer you are to the sun, the less distance UV has to travel and the stronger it will be. UV radiation can also be scattered by particles in the air and reflected from nearby buildings and ground surfaces. These are sometimes called indirect sources of UV radiation.

Sunburn

I'm sunburnt. What should I do?

Sunburn at any age, whether serious or mild, can cause permanent and irreversible skin damage that can lay the groundwork for skin cancer later in life. Your lifetime tally of ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure, together with the number of severe sunburns, increases your risk of skin cancer.

Sunburn is the skin's reaction to the UV in sunlight. You can see sunlight and feel heat (infrared radiation), but you can't see or feel UV radiation. It can damage your skin even on cool, cloudy days.

In Victoria's summer months, the signs of sunburn can start to appear in less than 11 minutes and can take days or weeks to heal depending on the severity. Mild sunburn can be treated at home, but severe and blistered burns require prompt medical attention.

The long-term effects of repeated bouts of sunburn include premature wrinkling and increased risk of skin cancer, including melanoma (a type of skin cancer). Once skin damage occurs, it is impossible to reverse. This is why prevention is much better than cure.

Sunburn can be grouped by seriousness:

  • first-degree sunburn: mild sunburn that reddens and inflames the skin
  • second-degree sunburn: more serious reddening of the skin and water blisters
  • third-degree sunburn: requires medical attention; you should see your doctor if you experience blistering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or severe pain.

There is no cure for sunburn except time and patience. Treatment aims to help manage the symptoms while the body heals. Suggestions include:

  • Drink plenty of water because you're probably dehydrated as well as sunburnt.
  • Gently apply cool or cold compresses. Alternatively, bathe the area in cool water.
  • Avoid using soap as this may irritate your skin.
  • Do not apply butter to sunburnt skin.
  • Talk to your local pharmacist about products that help soothe sunburn. Choose spray-on solutions rather than creams you apply by hand.
  • Don't pop blisters. Consider covering itchy blisters with a wound dressing to reduce the risk of infection.
  • Pain permitting, moisturise the skin. This won't stop the burnt skin from peeling off, but it will help boost the moisture content of the skin beneath.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers, if necessary.
  • Keep out of the sun until every last sign of sunburn has gone.
  • Resist the temptation and don't pick at the skin. Allow the dead skin sheets to detach on their own.
  • Apply antiseptic cream to the newly revealed skin to reduce the risk of infection.
  • You should see your doctor or seek treatment from your nearest hospital emergency department if you experience symptoms including:
    • Severe sunburn with extensive blistering and pain
    • Sunburn over a large area
    • Headache
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Fever
    • Dizziness or altered states of consciousness.

Sunburn prevention is best. Always check the sun protection times on the free SunSmart app and use a combination of sun protection measures when required.

Can I get sunburnt in my car?

Clear or tinted films and window covers on the side windows of vehicles can provide protection by substantially reducing the amount of solar ultraviolet (UV) radiation that is transmitted through glass.

Cancer Council Australia recommends that people who spend long periods of time in a vehicle when the UV index levels are at 3 or above use a combination of sun protection measures, such as long sleeved clothing, sunglasses and sunscreen that is SPF 30 or higher. This will ensure occupants are protected both in the vehicle and when they leave it.

The need for window tinting on car and building glass should be considered with regard to the risks to the occupants. In general, UV radiation through the windows of buildings and cars poses little health risk to people unless they are spending extended periods of time close to windows that receive direct sun.

Babies and toddlers can be protected with a window shade visor.

Driving sleeves can be purchased from the Cancer Council shop . Clear or tinted films added to side windows can reduce the amount of UV entering the car.

Cancer Council Australia's position statement on window tinting provides more detailed information to guide decision-making about using window tinting for sun protection.

Schools and early childhood services

Can I apply sunscreen to my baby?

If being in the sun is unavoidable, try to use a cover for the pram or cover as much of your baby's skin with loose-fitting, cool clothing and a hat. Apply sunscreen on those small areas of skin still exposed. It's a good idea to test the sunscreen on a small area of your baby's skin to make sure there won't be any reaction. Try a sensitive formula, as it will be less likely to cause irritation.

How often should sunscreen be applied?

Many families and carers apply sunscreen to children in the morning before dropping them off at school, kindergarten or childcare. This sunscreen will only be effective for about two hours and will need to be reapplied throughout the day to help protect skin. From approximately three years of age, help your child apply their own sunscreen so they can develop independent skills. Applying sunscreen can then be as much of an outdoor habit as wearing a hat. If they start early, they'll be experts by the first day of school.

Are sun hats needed all year in Victoria?

Sun protection is needed whenever UV levels reach 3 and above. In Victoria average UV levels are 3 and above from September to the end of April so a combination of sun protection measures are needed for all outdoor activities during these months. From May to August average UV levels are below three so it's a good time to get some winter sun and vitamin D. Check the SunSmart UV Alert  to see daily forecast UV levels and the times sun protection is or isn't required.

Do we need to stay inside during the middle of the day?

The sun's UV radiation is most intense during the middle part of the day between 10am and 3pm. From September to April, when the UV is 3 or above at this time, SunSmart encourages active, outdoor play while using a combination of sun protection measures such as covering clothing, wide brimmed hats, sunscreen, shade and, if practical, sunglasses. There is no need to stay inside if you are using all of these sun protection steps.

Workplaces and local government

What are the guidelines around heat and UV in the workplace?

All employers must protect employees by providing a safe working environment that is free of health risks. This includes taking the proper steps to reduce the known health risks associated with exposure to UV radiation and heat. UV radiation and heat pose different health risks. Heat increases the risk of heat stress and heat illness while UV radiation can cause skin and eye damage and lead to skin cancer.

It is important not to rely on the temperature as a guide to sun protection. Check the UV Alert  to find out the UV level for your area each day. When the UV is 3 and above, take steps to ensure that your employees have access to SPF 30 or higher sunscreen, shade, long sleeved clothing, hats and that they wear sunglasses when working outdoors.

Checking your skin for skin cancer

How will I know if my skin has changed?

Take the time to get to know how your skin normally looks. Be familiar with the various moles, blemishes, marks and freckles that are normal for you. You'll then notice if they change or if new spots appear.

How do I know what to look for?

When checking your skin, look for anything unusual or suspicious. Skin cancer can appear as a new spot or an existing spot that has changed. Make an appointment to see your doctor if you see anything on the skin that has changed in size shape or colour, if you see anything that was not there before or if you are concerned about anything you have noticed.

What do I do if I notice something unusual?

See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything unusual or have concerns about your skin. 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early.

Should I visit a skin clinic?

There are many skin cancer clinics available, offering a variety of services and fee arrangements. Skin specialists, such as dermatologists, do not necessarily operate skin clinics. Cancer Council Victoria does not recommend any particular skin check service providers or skin cancer clinics. Download our Consumer Guide to Skin Clinics.

Vitamin D

Do I need to get more sun to avoid vitamin D deficiency?

Sunscreen use should not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency . When UV levels are 3 and above, most people get enough vitamin D through normal activity, even with sunscreen. Prolonged use of sunscreen has been shown to not affect long term vitamin D levels – this is because most people generally do not apply enough sunscreen and often forget to reapply.

In summer, just a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon will help with vitamin D levels. During winter, most Victorians need two to three hours a week of midday winter sun exposure spread across the week to help with vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.

Isn't a solarium a good way to get vitamin D?

Never try to boost vitamin D levels at any time of the year through excessive UV exposure or through using solariums, as both are associated with an increased risk of skin cancer. If you think you maybe vitamin D deficient, speak to your doctor.

Solariums

Isn't solarium tanning safer than tanning in the sun, especially as I don't burn?

Solariums emit UV radiation that is up to six times stronger than the midday sun.

Research shows that using solariums before the age of 35 boosts the risk of melanoma by 59%.

Commercial solariums will be banned in Victoria from 1 January 2015 and in South Australia and New South Wales from 31 December 2014. While there is no firm announcements it is expected other states will follow.

There is no such thing as a safe tan – a tan is a sign of your skin cells in trauma.

I need a tan for a special occasion, which tan is safest?

‘Love the skin you're in'. If you must tan, use fake tanning products.

Does a fake tan provide protection?

Fake tanning lotion does not improve your body's ability to protect itself from the sun, so you will still need sun protection. Some fake tans have sunscreen in them, but this only works for the first two hours after application, like any other sunscreen.

For media

How can I get a SunSmart logo?

The logo may only be provided for legitimate use in certain circumstances. It may not be used without permission and you must have written approval. Contact us for approval.

Where can I find the latest statistics?

Go to Skin cancer facts and stats  for the most often quoted statistics, facts and research findings with references provided.

Media students and SunSmart information

SunSmart receives a lot of requests from students for program information and interviews. Before contacting us, please use this website to gather information.

Students can quote this website. If you quote a Cancer Council spokesperson or use information from our websites, please send us a final version of your assignment for our files.

Contact us if you wish to organise an interview (in person or on the phone) or photo opportunity. Your email request must be received no less than two weeks in advance. An interview is not guaranteed and depends on staff availability.

Students enquiring about a student placement or work experience with SunSmart should send a cover letter and CV to HR@cancervic.org.au noting your preference for a placement with the SunSmart program.

Share
Email Print Facebook Twitter AddThis