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.
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.
It is possible for UV radiation to pass through clouds. The amount of UV radiation that gets through depends on how thick the clouds are. Heavy cloud can reduce UV levels. UV levels on lightly overcast days can be similar to that of a cloud-free day. UV levels rise and fall as clouds pass in front of the sun on a day of scattered cloud. On a cloudy day, try checking the real time UV graph to see the effects.
Australia experiences some of the highest levels of UV radiation in the world because we are close to the equator where the sun sits 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 are during their summer.
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 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:
There is no cure for sunburn except time and patience. Treatment aims to help manage the symptoms while the body heals. Suggestions include:
You should see your doctor or seek treatment from your nearest hospital emergency department if you experience symptoms including:
Sunburn prevention is best. Always check the SunSmart UV Alert and use a combination of sun protection measures whenever the UV Index level is 3 and above. Cover up with clothing, apply SPF 30 or higher broad spectrum sunscreen, wear a broad-brimmed hat that covers the face, ears and neck, slide on some wrap around sunglasses and seek shade wherever possible.
Cars generally provide good protection but you can still get sunburnt when in the car for a long time. Wearing sunscreen in the car is the best way to prevent sunburn. 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 information to guide decision-making about using window tinting for sun protection.
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.
Many families apply sunscreen in the morning before dropping their children 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.
Sun protection is needed whenever UV levels reach 3 and above (the level UV can start to do some damage). 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 vitamin D. Check the SunSmart UV Alert to see daily forecast UV levels and the times sun protection is or isn't required.
The sun's UV radiation is most intense during the middle part of the day between 10am and 3pm. SunSmart encourages active, outdoor play by 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.
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.
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.
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 your concerned about anything you have noticed.
See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice anything unusual or have concerns about your skin. Over 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early.
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 individual skin check service providers or skin cancer clinics.
Vitamin D helps to develop and maintain healthy bones and UV radiation from the sun is one of the best sources for 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 skin cancer. During these months, most Victorians need just a few minutes of sun exposure mid-morning or mid-afternoon to the face, arms, hands or equivalent area, 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 three to six times this amount.
From May to August UV levels are generally low (below 3) in Victoria so sun protection is not needed unless near highly reflective surfaces such as snow, outside for extended periods or when the UV reaches 3 and above. During these months, most Victorians need about two to three hours of midday winter sun exposure spread over each week to the face, arms, hands or equivalent area to help with vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need three to six times this amount.
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 make levels of UV radiation up to six times stronger than the midday summer sun. Tanning without burning can still cause skin damage and premature ageing, and increase your skin cancer risk. Research shows that using solariums before the age of 35 boosts the risk of melanoma by 59%.
There is no such thing as a safe tan – a tan is a sign of your skin cells in trauma.
‘Love the skin you're in'. If you must tan then use fake tanning products.
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.
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Go to Skin cancer facts and stats for the most often quoted statistics, facts and research findings with references provided.
SunSmart receives a lot of requests from students for program information and interviews. Before contacting us, 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.