Victorians urged to beware the sun's sting as data shows almost 1 in 5 had multiple bad burns

Thursday 24 January, 2019

New data shows 39% of Victorians had one or more bad sunburn that lasted a day or more last summer, as figures reveal 121 people went to hospital emergency for sunburn in January alone.

The alarming figures come as Victorians prepare to enjoy a long weekend, prompting warnings from SunSmart for everyone to enjoy the sun safely.

A Cancer Council Victoria survey conducted this time last year shows 21% of Victorian adults had one red and tender sunburn that lasted a day or more, another 11% of Victorians reported having had this type of bad sunburn at least twice, while 7% admitted they had been painfully burnt three or more times last season alone.

In addition to the survey reports, new data from Victorian public emergency department presentations shows 278 people presented with sunburn to state hospital emergency departments in the 2017-18 financial year. Most (222) presentations were recorded in summer, with 121 presentations in January alone – an average of four people each day.

SunSmart Manager Heather Walker said the numbers were far too high.

“A sunburn is evidence that your skin has been seriously damaged by the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation and significantly increases your melanoma risk,” Ms Walker said.

“That’s why it’s so shocking to see so many Victorians have been burnt in the last summer alone, not just once but multiple times. In some cases, sunburns have been severe enough that people have gone to emergency. This is not a pattern we want repeated.”

Ms Walker said it was particularly concerning to see almost half of emergency presentations for sunburn were from infants, children and teenagers, given harmful UV exposure in childhood greatly increases skin cancer risk later in life.

The Cancer Council Victoria survey showed that episodes of painful sunburn were most common among men, younger adults and those with a skin type that burns but then tans. 

“Do not be fooled by suntanned skin,” Ms Walker said.

“Like a sunburn, a suntan is a sign of skin cells in trauma and will contribute to your lifetime risk of skin cancer. No matter your skin type, age or gender, skin cancer prevention is key.”

Alfred Hospital Victorian Melanoma Service Director Associate Professor Victoria Mar said she was also alarmed by the sunburn numbers.

“Most skin cancers diagnosed in Australia are the result of UV damage, which means it’s vital to your future health to stop this damage adding up,” Assoc Prof Mar said.

“As someone who regularly treats patients with skin cancer, including patients experiencing the advanced stages of melanoma, I cannot emphasise enough how important prevention is.”

Assoc Prof Marr said sunburn was not only damaging to skin cells but could be extremely painful.

“Unfortunately, there’s no cure for sunburn except time and patience. So, a bad sunburn can really spoil your summer.

“You’ll need to seek immediate medical attention for severe sunburn, which can include extensive blistering and pain, sunburn over a large area of skin, headache, nausea and vomiting, fever or dizziness.

“For mild sunburn, people should stay out of the sun to allow skin to heal, stay hydrated, apply cool compresses and seek a doctor or pharmacists advice on soothing the burn.”

With a long weekend ahead, Ms Walker stressed the importance of sunburn prevention.

"We urge all Victorians to be SunSmart this weekend and every day this summer by using sun protection whenever they are outside. That’s a combination of covering clothing, sunscreen, a hat, shade and sunglasses.

“These steps are just as important if you’re at home, enjoying a backyard barbecue or mowing the lawns, as they are if you’re headed to the beach. Don’t underestimate the sun’s UV – at this time of year, unprotected skin can be burnt in as little as 11 minutes.”

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About the data

The 2018 Summer Sun Protection Survey was a representative cross-sectional survey of Victorian adults conducted online and via telephone in January-February 2018. In total, 538 Victorians aged 18 and over completed the survey online or by telephone in January-February 2018 to provide a representative sample of all Victorians.

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