Practice what you preach at the beach

Monday 23 January, 2012

Australian children 16 times more likely to use sunscreen if their parents do

SunSmart is encouraging parents to role model sun safe behaviour this summer after a new Australian study, published online in the Journal of American Academy of Dermatology, has shown that sun protection behaviour of children is heavily influenced by what their parents do to protect themselves from too much of the sun's ultraviolet (UV) rays.

SunSmart Manager, Sue Heward, said: "The study shows that, in summer, Australian children are 16 times more likely to use sunscreen and six times more likely to use two or more sun protection behaviours if their parents do too compared with parents who do not perform the same behaviours."

"Given that sun exposure during childhood can play an important part in the development of skin cancers later in life, the role modelling of SunSmart behaviour by parents is crucial to setting up good sun safe habits," said Ms. Heward.

The study also highlighted that there is a lot of work to do in changing parents' attitudes and behaviours to provide a positive influence on children's sun protection. Only 29% of children in the study used three or more sun protection behaviours despite SunSmart's five step message to Slip! Slop! Slap! Seek! and Slide! with the use of clothing, sunscreen, hats, shade and sunglasses for UV protection.

The study revealed 8% of children had sunburn, particularly on the head, shoulders and arms. Of those sunburnt, 47% were burnt while close to water and on days with warmer temperatures as children spent more time outdoors and wore less clothing.

Ms. Heward warns; "We know that the beach and pools are major hot spots for sunburn as when you are near water, UV can reach you direct and on the rebound, by bouncing off reflective surfaces such as sand, water, concrete and tiles. We also know that in summer, UV levels reach high to extreme even on cloudy days."

"We urge parents to get in the habit of checking the UV Alert each day over the holiday period on via the free SunSmart app or in the weather section of the daily newspaper. By parents using a combination of sun protection measures including long sleeved clothing, sunscreen, a hat, shade and sunglasses during the sun protection times children will be encouraged to do the same."

"There is no need to stay inside, just play it safe when you are having fun in the sun. Five easy steps now can help prevent a lot of suffering later."

For more information about sun protection, visit

Other findings

  • On summer weekends, 73% of children spent longer than 15 minutes outdoors in peak ultraviolet (UV) radiation periods.
  • Of these, 64% were protected by a hat and 58% by sun protection factor 15 or higher sunscreen, 32% stayed under shade, and 18% wore three-quarter or long-sleeved tops.
  • Most common sunburn sites were the head and face (56%), the shoulders (27%), and the arms and hands (22%).
  • Most common explanations given for sunburn included the sunscreen had worn off (26%), they had stayed in the sun too long (18%), or they had forgotten to protect the burnt area (13%).
  • They spent on average 110 minutes outdoors and were mostly engaged in activities in the backyard at home or at a friend's or relative's home (42%). Water-related activities at pools, rivers and beaches (29%) were also common.
  • Except for shade use, boys were generally better protected when outside, with decreased odds of girls wearing a hat or using two or more sun-protection behaviours.
  • However, more boys were outdoors and fewer used shade compared with girls, and more boys were sunburnt.
  • The study showed that older children, aged 5–11 years, were less well protected than the younger children as they were less likely to wear a hat or clothing covering their legs or stay in the shade.

About the research

In weekly telephone interviews during summer, 1,140 parents/guardians of children aged 0 to 11 years were recruited, and reported on one of their children's weekend sun protection and sunburn, their own sun-related attitudes and behaviours, and demographic characteristics.

SunSmart program

Our world leading SunSmart program is dedicated to reducing skin cancer incidence, morbidity and mortality.

Meet the team

Meet the SunSmart team working tirelessly behind the scenes.

Media & communications

We provide trustworthy, credible and authoritative commentary on sun protection and skin cancer.

Contact us

Got a question? There are a number of ways to get in touch with SunSmart.