Survey shows more than 1/3 Victorian adults confused about sunburn, as SunSmart season arrives

Thursday 1 September, 2016

Victorians are being asked to think UV – not heat – after Cancer Council’s National Sun Survey showed more than a third of adults are still confused about what causes sunburn.

When asked the most useful measure for determining their sunburn risk for the day, 64% of Victorian adults were able to correctly identify the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

However, 36% of adults did not realise that UV radiation is the only cause of sunburn, mistakenly claiming temperature (23%), and/or cloud cover, wind or humidity (15%) as useful measures of sunburn risk. Four per cent couldn’t say.

With the arrival of Spring, SunSmart Manager Heather Walker said Victorians need to understand it’s UV – not heat, wind or sunlight – that causes sunburn and is the major cause of skin cancer.

“UV radiation is an invisible danger because it’s not like the sun’s warmth, which we feel, or the sun’s light, which we can see,” Ms Walker said.

“UV rays can be high enough to damage our skin on cooler days in Spring, so, if we’re relying on temperature to work out whether we need to protect our skin or not, we’re making a big mistake.

“Remember, every time we overexpose our skin to UV rays, the damage adds up to increase our risk of skin cancer.”

Bureau of Meteorology’s National Manager of Public Weather Services Vernon Carr said Spring was an especially important time to be aware of UV exposure.

“It’s the first day of Spring and UV levels increase rapidly to late December when they can reach extreme levels, so it is important to check your local weather forecast or the SunSmart app for the times of the day when sun protection measures are recommended,” Mr Carr said.

“Remember that UV levels are not connected with maximum temperatures and at this time of year it is very easy to get sunburnt by being caught out, especially in late Spring and early Summer, when people spend more time outdoors.”

In one year in Victoria, there are 2,466 melanomas diagnosed and almost 100,000 treatments carried out for other skin cancers. The disease also claims seven Victorian lives each week.

“Most skin cancers can be prevented and we know how to do it – slip on clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on sunglasses,” Ms Walker said.

“Don’t wait for Summer to protect your skin. Get into the habit of checking your local sun protection times every day, which forecast when UV is expected to reach damaging levels of 3 or higher. Slip, Slop, Slap, Seek and Slide during these times to cut your cancer risk.”

The Bureau of Meteorology include the maximum UV level and sun protection times for several hundred locations across Australia, available from or on the free SunSmart app.

Live UV data is also available on the app, and at the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency website.

Key results

The National Sun Protection Survey was conducted via phone over the summer of 2013–14. Conducted every three to four years by Cancer Council, the survey provides a perspective on changing trends in Australians’ sun protection behaviours and rates of sunburn over the past decade.

Table: Victorian adults’ awareness of the UV Index and effects of UV radiation
Which one of the following measures would be most useful to tell you the risk of sunburn for the day? % Victorian adults
UV Index (exclusively) 64
Temperature (any mention) 23
Other (cloud cover, wind conditions, humidity) (any mention) 15
Can’t say 4

*Respondents could select more than one response so % Victorian adults does not total 100%

About UV radiation

UV radiation is an invisible form of energy produced by the sun, which also emits visible light and infrared radiation (heat). It can reach our skin directly, or be reflected off of other surfaces, such as water, sand, snow and concrete.UV is measured on a scale from 0 to 11+, with sun protection recommended when levels reach 3 or higher.

To help people know when UV levels are forecast to be 3 or higher, the Bureau of Meteorology issues the sun protection times and maximum UV Index values daily. These times are also available on the free SunSmart app.

Live UV data is also available on the app, provided by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

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