Hundreds of Victorians presenting to emergency with sunburn

Wednesday 25 January, 2017

More than 200 sunburn cases were treated by Victorian emergency departments in a single year, prompting warnings to use sun protection ahead of the Australia Day public holiday.

Data from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset shows public emergency departments treated 224 cases of sunburn between 1 July 2015 and 30 June 2016. In 212 cases, sunburn was the recorded reason for attending. Unsurprisingly, summer was the peak season for sunburns, with 81 presentations to emergency in January alone.

The figures show that 57% of sunburnt patients were male and 72% were under 30 years of age. The worst affected were Victorians aged 20-29 years, who accounted for almost one-third (31%) of all sunburn cases.

SunSmart Manager Heather Walker said the data was alarming.

“Almost all of these cases could have been avoided by using good sun protection measures,” Ms Walker said.

“It’s extremely concerning that some people are getting sunburnt so badly they need emergency care. Sunburn isn’t just painful – it’s a sign UV rays have damaged your skin. The sunburn might fade but the UV damage remains, and increases your risk of skin cancer.”

Emergency departments assessed 11% of cases as urgent, while the majority of presentations were semi-urgent (58%) or non-urgent (29%).

Dr Yan Pan, Dermatologist at the Victorian Melanoma Service at The Alfred, said an urgent case of sunburn was a second-degree burn, which meant there could be blistering, and nerve damage.

“If you have severe sunburn, for example with blistering and/or nausea, seek medical attention immediately. For mild sunburn, it’s really important to stay out of the sun and let your skin recover. Use cool compresses or bathe in cool water to soothe skin, but avoid using soap or other irritants.

“We want people to enjoy the day off – not spend it in emergency. Please protect your skin outdoors.”

According to Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection Survey, the most common reason Australians gave for their summer sunburn was staying out in the sun too long. Other common reasons given were forgetting about sun protection or thinking it wasn’t required, sunscreen application mistakes, deliberately not wearing sun protection and attempting to suntan.

Ms Walker urged Victorians to keep sun protection top-of-mind this Australia Day.

“Many of us will be taking advantage of the holiday by spending time outdoors. However at this time, UV levels will be Extreme and unprotected skin could burn in as little as 11 minutes.

“Whether you’re in the backyard having a barbecue with friends or heading to the coast, you need to protect your skin in five ways. That means covering up with clothing, sunscreen, a broad-brimmed hat, shade and sunglasses.”

For more information on sun protection visit

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About the data

Data on the number of presentations to Victorian emergency departments due to sunburn) were sourced from the Victorian Emergency Minimum Dataset for the 2015-16 financial year.

Emergency department presentations for sunburn in Victoria in 2015-16, by month, age group and sex (n=224)


Number of cases

Month and year


July 2015


August 2015


September 2015


October 2015


November 2015


December 2015




February 2016


March 2016


April 2016


May 2016


June 2016








Age group


0-9 years


10-19 years


20-29 years


30-39 years


40-49 years


50 and over


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