MaskSmart but not SunSmart

Thursday 22 October, 2020

Victorians are celebrating the easing of COVID-19 restrictions by spending more time outside. But alarmingly, new research shows that most of us don’t understand when we should be using sun protection.

As we edge closer to the start of summer, daily UV levels are steadily increasing. In fact, since August, they have been reaching levels where skin is damaged more easily (index of 3 or above).

However, most Victorians haven’t been taking necessary precautions.

New research shows most Victorians don’t understand the UV Index and mistakenly believe temperature and sunshine are the best predictors of the need for sun protection.

The UV Index was developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), the United Nations Environment Programme, and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The use and understanding of UV forecast information was assessed in a qualitative study conducted by Cancer Council Victoria’s Centre for Behavioural Research in Cancer and the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency.

The study examined public understanding of the UV Index among users of the free SunSmart app – a tool that provides location-specific sun protection times based on forecasted UV information – by surveying participants new to the app.

When asked about the UV Index, participants were unable to accurately interpret the scale.

Results showed that most participants had very limited understanding of the UV index, with many people simply looking out the window for guidance on whether sun protection was required.

Head of SunSmart, Heather Walker, said “many people will be surprised to learn that on a number of those cool August days, the UV Index climbed above 3, which is when sun protection is recommended.”

“It’s important for people to enjoy some fresh air in their backyards and while exercising during COVID restrictions, but we want to make sure they’re informed and doing it safely,” Ms Walker said.

Face mask, sunscreen, sunglasses and sun-protective hat

Many of the steps on the COVID-19 roadmap for reopening feature enjoying social time outdoors rather than inside a venue or home.

Victorians will only be allowed to invite small groups of people from nominated households to their homes through most of the steps towards ‘COVID-normal’.

However, the good news is Victorians will be able to meet with larger groups of friends from different households in outdoor public places. That’s why it’s more important now than ever for Victorians to understand how to protect themselves from harsh UV radiation – while also being COVID-safe.

So how can you effectively protect yourself from UV radiation, and what are the consequences if we don’t cover up?

“Knowing when to use sun protection is just as important as knowing how to use it. Sun protection times are issued when the UV Index is 3 or above. Too much UV exposure can cause damage to your skin including the deadly form of skin cancer, melanoma,” Ms Walker said.

Melanoma is Australia’s third most common cancer – a startling fact given most cases are preventable. In 2018, 3,097 Victorians were diagnosed with melanoma and 291 lost their lives to it.

In the same year, Medicare records show there were over 150,000 treatments for squamous and basal cell carcinoma skin cancers in Victoria – that’s more than 17 skin cancer treatments every hour.

“Most skin cancers can be avoided by using five forms of sun protection when the UV Index is above 3,” said Ms Walker.

How to be SunSmart throughout COVID-19 restrictions

The first important step in becoming UV-savvy is downloading the free SunSmart app. Create better sun protection habits by checking the daily recommended sun protection times.

SunSmart recommends that Victorians protect their skin in five ways when the UV Index is above 3:

  • Slip on loose protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Slop on SPF30 or higher, broad spectrum, water resistant sunscreen 20 minutes before going outdoors. Reapply every two hours.
  • Slap on a broad-brim, bucket or legionnaire hat that covers the face, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade wherever possible outside; particularly in the middle of the day when the UV is highest.
  • Slide on close-fitting, wrap-around sunglasses that cover as much of the eye area as possible and that meet the Australian Standards.

Wearing a mask does not act as sun protection for your whole face. Make sure to use a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses to protect the rest of your face and neck from harsh UV radiation.

Take care of all your SunSmart needs in one place! Every purchase of Cancer Council sun protection products helps to fund cancer research, prevention programs and support services. Visit the Cancer Council shop

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