It’s great being outdoors enjoying our beautiful country and climate. From the beach to the bush, being outdoors gives us a chance to be active, enjoy fresh air and spend time with others.
But being outdoors in Australia means we’re exposed to some of the harshest and most dangerous levels of ultraviolet radiation (UV) in the world.
UV radiation can’t be seen or felt and can be harmful on warm, sunny days as well as on cool, cloudy days. The more skin is exposed to UV radiation, the greater the risk of damage and skin cancer.
If you notice your skin starts to change colour – what people often call a ‘tan’ – that’s a clear sign that damage is being done. Whenever the UV Index hits 3 or above it’s important to cover up to protect your skin.
No matter your age, when you cover up your skin, you create a barrier between yourself and UV radiation. You can cover your skin by wearing a hat, clothing and sunglasses. Apply sunscreen to any parts of skin you can’t cover with clothing. Enjoy shady areas outdoors to give you extra coverage.
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Use all 5 forms of sun protection
If you can see skin, UV can get in and do damage. Look for clothing that creates a barrier between your skin and UV.
If the fabric doesn’t let much light through, it won’t let much UV through either.
How to increase the barrier between your skin and UV
- The more skin you cover with long sleeve shirts, skirts and pants, the more you protect your skin from the sun and harmful UV radiation.
- A shirt with a collar provides protection to your neck.
- If you can see through the fabric or if it is stretched, UV can get in and cause damage.
- Layering fabrics and garments is a great way to increase skin protection from UV.
Choose your fabric:
- Darker colours absorb UV radiation better than white or pastel colours of the same fabric.
- When wet, fabrics offer less protection from UV radiation as they become more transparent. Choose a fabric that provides protection from UV but dries quickly.
Care for your clothes:
- Washing new clothes can shrink gaps in the structure so less UV can get in.
- Some clothing is treated to absorb more UV radiation. Check the clothing label to see if your clothes have been treated and follow the care instructions.
What is Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF)?
UPF tells you how much UV radiation can get through the fabric and reach your skin. UPF refers to both the design of the garment (how much skin it covers) and its fabric (how much UV it blocks).
Most fabrics will provide some protection from the sun and UV but if you want to be sure your clothes are SunSmart, look for a UPF of at least 30 for good protection and UPF50+ for excellent protection.
For any skin you can still see after wearing clothing, a hat and sunglasses, apply SPF50+ sunscreen. The Sun Protection Factor (SPF) in sunscreen is the measure of protection sunscreen gives your skin against UVB radiation.
Sunscreens sold in Australia meet rigorous standards, so you know they are safe to apply and reapply. To get the best possible UV protection, follow the sunscreen directions and reapply at least every two hours.
How to wear sunscreen every day
- Choose an SPF 50+ sunscreen that best suits your skin type and one that you find easy to reapply.
- Apply sunscreen even if your makeup has SPF. Most make-up products with SPF don’t provide enough protection which means UV radiation can still get in and damage your skin. For even cover, apply an SPF50+ sunscreen first and then your makeup.
- Apply sunscreen 20 minutes before you go outside and reapply every two hours, and after swimming or excessive sweating.
- Apply more sunscreen than you think. Most adults need 7 teaspoons for one full body application. You can use our sunscreen calculator as a guide.
What to look for in the sunscreen you wear
- There are different types of UV radiation (hyperlink to What is UV). A broad-spectrum sunscreen protects your skin against both types of harmful UV radiation including:
- UVA rays that are responsible for tanning and premature ageing; and
- UVB rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer.
- SPF50+ filters 98% of UVB radiation, so it is important to combine with other forms of sun protection.
- Water resistant sunscreens are effective for up to 40 minutes of swimming and must be reapplied after swimming.
- Sunscreen does expire and may no longer be effective once it does. Check the expiry date before applying and store below 30° degrees and out of direct sunlight.
Protect your skin and eyes by wearing a wide brim hat that helps block the sun’s heat and glare. All that shade will help block the UV too.
Caps and visors will leave large parts of your face, neck and ears exposed to UV radiation, so choose a hat that covers as much of your skin and head as possible. These include a wide brim hat, legionnaire hat or bucket hat.
How to get the most protection from your hat
- Bucket hats need a deep crown, angled brim of at least 6cm for adults and 5cm for children and should sit low on the head.
- Wide brim hats should be at least 7.5cm for adults, 6cm for children over 8 years, and 5cm for toddlers depending on head size.
- Legionnaire hats need a flap that covers the neck and overlaps at the sides of the front peak.
- If wearing a hardhat or helmet, use a brim attachment or a legionnaire cover.
- The fabric of a hat can impact how much UV it blocks out. If a hat is loosely constructed or made from knitted fabric, UV radiation may still get in and damage your skin.
- Don’t choose baseball caps if you are looking to protect your face, neck and ears from UV. They’re not a good option for everyday sun and UV protection as they only protect your scalp and forehead.
When you’re enjoying the great outdoors, there are many different shade options you can use to create an extra barrier between you and UV radiation.
Sitting under a tree, finding an umbrella or shade structure is a great way to protect your skin from harmful UV in addition to covering up with clothing, a hat, sunglasses and sunscreen.
How to find a shady space
- Trees with dense foliage that provide dark, even shade patches are the best types of natural shade.
- Take a portable shade with you, such as an umbrella or sunshade, to protect yourself from UV exposure.
- When you access shady spaces, make sure you look for any sources of reflective UV. This is when UV reflects from surfaces. For example, if you are near water or at the snow, UV may reach you even under shade. It’s important to still use a hat, sunglasses, clothing and sunscreen to be covered.
UV radiation is harmful for your skin and your eyes.
Protect your eyes by wearing sunglasses that are labelled with UV protection and are large enough to cover your eyes fully and provide sun protection from all angles.
How to choose the right sunglasses to prevent UV harm
- Choose a close-fitting, wrap-around style of sunglasses.
- Check the tag to make sure they meet the Australian Standard for eye protection. The Standard has five categories of sun protection – choose category 2 or higher. These lenses absorb more than 95% of UV radiation.
- Some sunglasses carry an Eye Protection Factor (EPF). Ratings of EPF 9 and 10 provide excellent protection blocking almost all UV radiation.
- Polarised sunglasses reduce glare from the sun and make it easier to see on a sunny day, but they don’t increase the level of UV protection.
- The Australian Standard for sunglasses and fashion spectacles does not cover prescription glasses. Some prescription glasses provide UV protection, please check with your optometrist.
Sun protection for snow
Did you know UV levels can be more intense in the snow? This is because you’re at higher altitudes where UV radiation increases, and snow is highly reflective creating a double UV dose – from the sun above and reflection from the snow below.
Learn more about how UV can reflect
Protect your skin and eyes from the snow
UV radiation can damage your skin and your eyes.
Eye protection can help prevent snow blindness (also known as photokeratitis), which is caused when UV levels damage the outer cells of the eyeball. Snow blindness results in temporary vision loss and can lead to chronic eye conditions in severe cases.
In the snow, make sure you:
- Wear goggles or wrap-around sunglasses with UV protection that meets the Australian Standard for eye protection.
- Apply a generous amount of sunscreen to exposed skin 20 minutes before going outside and reapply every two hours.
- Apply sunscreen under your chin, beneath the tip of your nose and behind your ears as snow reflects UV radiation.
- Take a travel size sunscreen and SPF lip balm with you to reapply during the day.
Learn more about UV radiation to protect yourself.
Skin cancer prevention tools
UV radiation can’t be seen or felt and can be harmful even on cool and cloudy days.
Our SunSmart tools help you monitor the times of day when UV levels can damage your skin leading to skin cancer.
Whenever the UV Index hits 3 or above it’s important to protect your skin by using all five forms of sun protection: covering up with clothing, a wide brim hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and staying in shady spaces.
SunSmart Global UV app
Download the free SunSmart Global UV app to get daily UV alerts so you know when to protect your skin from damage – whether you’re in or outside of Australia.
Download the app
Add the free SunSmart UV widget to your website to show the latest UV levels and sun protection times for your location without opening the app.
Add the UV widget