Protect Yourself Now, Thank Us Later!
SUNLIGHT has been clinically tested to improve moods and increase your body’s vitamin D production and endorphin release. But while everyone wants a glowing tan, the sun can also seriously damage your skin if you don’t take precautions. Here are some simple guidelines for capturing that perfect tan and not frying your skin.
- The most important factor when picking a sunscreen is to get one that has an SPF of 15 or higher and broad-spectrum protection. This means your skin will be protected from both UVA and UVB rays.
- Chemical-free physical sunblocks that contain ingredients like zinc oxide or titanium dioxide (like MenScience’s TiO2 Sunblock SPF 30) reflect harmful rays without reacting with the skin. This means they don’t cause allergic reactions and don’t sting the eyes if they run due to swimming or sweating.
- Regularly exfoliating your skin removes the outer layer of dead cells and allows you to achieve a more even tan, however, this also causes your skin to burn more easily, so don’t scrub yourself right before tanning.
- Lips can chap as easily from sunburn as from exposure to cold and dry air, so make sure to use a lip protection with an SPF of 15 or higher.
- Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before you go out into the sun to allow the skin time to absorb it. After a half an hour outside, it should be applied again for maximum protection. Most sunscreens only last about two hours, so make sure to apply it regularly, especially if swimming or sweating heavily. Even “waterproof” brands lose their potency after an hour in the water.
- Sand and water can reflect up to 90% of the sun’s rays, so give your skin extra protection when at the beach. A stronger SPF is also recommended for higher altitudes, since the air is thinner and sun exposure is more intense.
- Don’t forget to apply sunscreen to sensitive areas like the tops of your feet, backs of your ears and neck, and areas of the scalp and hairline if your hair is thin or thinning.
Some more interesting information courtesty of SunSmart
If your skin has gone red in the sun, it’s sunburnt. Sunburn doesn’t have to be red-raw, peeling or blistering.
What is sunburn?
A sunburn is a clear sign that ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun has damaged the genetic material in your skin cells - their DNA.
Damaged DNA can cause cells to start growing out of control. This can lead to skin cancer. Getting a painful sunburn just once every two years can triple the risk of melanoma, the most serious type of skin cancer.Your body’s attempt to repair this damage is what causes the painful symptoms of a sunburn.
Check out our sunburn animation below for an illustration of what happens to your skin when you get sunburnt.
Why do sunburns peel?
Sometimes, the sun damages skin cells so severely that they must be destroyed. Peeling after sunburn is your body’s way of getting rid of these damaged cells. This is necessary because cells damaged by the sun are at risk of becoming cancerous.
Although skin peels and new skin layers form, some sunburn damage may remain. This can increase your risk of skin cancer. So it is important to try to avoid burning in the first place.
Are sunburns like burns you get from touching something hot?
No, sunburns are caused by ultraviolet radiation (UV) from the sun, which does not feel warm. The heat in the sun comes from infrared rays, which do not burn your skin. This is why people can still burn on cool days.
When you touch a hot object, your skin may also become red, swollen and painful. But the DNA inside your skin cells is not damaged. Both heat burns and sunburns will fade, but only sunburns can cause lasting damage to the DNA in your skin cells. Check out our sunburn animation for more information on this.
Why are sunburns red, hot or painful?
When UV radiation damages DNA, your body tries to repair the damage. The blood vessels in the local area swell, allowing blood to rush into it. This is why sunburn looks red. Blood inside your body is also hot, which is why it feels like sunburns give off heat - actually, they are usually no hotter than your core body temperature. The wider blood vessels allow the cells of your immune system to travel to the site of the damage. They also release chemicals which trigger inflammation - this is why bad sunburns are swollen and painful.
How does the sun damage DNA?
There are two major types of UV rays that damage our skin
- UVB is responsible for the majority of sunburns and it can cause skin cancer.
- UVA penetrates deeper into the skin. It ages the skin, but contributes much less towards sunburn.
Recent evidence tells us that both UVA and UVB can damage DNA in the skin, which can lead to skin cancer. A third type of UV ray, UVC, is the most dangerous of all, but it is completely blocked out by the ozone layer and doesn’t reach the earth’s surface.
Is the DNA damage from the sun permanent?
Your body has ways of repairing most of the damage. But it is not perfect - some damaged DNA can be left behind. This is why it is important to avoid getting caught out by sunburn.
How can I protect myself?
Don’t let sunburn catch you out. Whether at home or abroad, use shade, clothing and SPF15+ sunscreen to protect your skin.
Sun protection - shade
Spend time in the shade between eleven and three.One of the best ways to protect yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays is to find shade under trees, umbrellas, canopies or indoors.
UV rays are invisible and cannot be felt on the skin (the heat of the sun comes from infrared rays instead). UV rays penetrate deeply into our cells, causing changes that lead to sunburn, skin ageing, eye damage and skin cancer.
The sun’s UV rays are strongest in the hours around midday. This is why it’s best to spend time in the shade between 11am and 3pm.
Other things that affect the amount of UV rays are the:
- Time of year - the highest risk months in the UK are May to September. In Australia, November to February are the danger months. Near the equator, there are strong UV rays all year round.
- Altitude - UV rays are stronger the higher you go. So skiers and mountaineers beware!
- Cloud cover - you can still burn on a day when there is thin or scattered cloud, but heavy cloud does offer protection.
- Reflection - up to 85 per cent of UV rays can be reflected back from snow, sand, cement and water.
You can find out more about UV rays in the UV index section.
Shade is particularly important for children. Go to the shade for schools section to find out more about providing shade in school.
You can find or create shade in many different ways. For example:
- Trees and foliage
- Umbrellas and parasols
- Canopies and awnings
- Tents and shelters
- Wide-brimmed hats
When there’s no shade around, the best way to protect your skin from the sun is with loose clothing, a wide-brimmed hat and good quality sunglasses.
What to look for
The more skin that is covered by your clothing, the better the protection. Look for materials with a close weave, as they will block out the most UV rays. Holding the material up to the light is a good way to see how much light and UV rays will get through.
Be aware that when some clothes get wet, they stretch and allow more UV rays through to your skin. This is particularly a problem for cotton clothes. A wet cotton t-shirt may only offer half the protection of a dry one.
Don’t forget your hat and sunglasses
Hats are great for protecting the face, eyes and head (especially if you happen to be thin on top!). Choose a wide-brimmed hat for the most protection.
When choosing sunglasses look for one of the following:
- A UV 400 label
- A statement that the sunglasses offer 100% UV protection
Also, make sure that the glasses offer protection at the side of the eye. The wraparound style of glasses are popular in Australia where sun safety is very important.
Sunscreens can be useful for protecting our skin from the sun’s rays. However, they will not protect us completely from sun damage on their own. This is why we recommend using sunscreens together with shade or clothing to avoiding getting caught out by sunburn.
You should never use sunscreen in order to spend longer in the sun.
We recommend buying sunscreens with:
- a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) of at least 15 - the higher the factor of sunscreen the better broad-spectrum” sunscreens with a star rating of four stars or more
Also look out for brands that:
- have not gone past their expiry date - most sunscreens have a shelf life of 2-3 years
Other tips for using sunscreen properly
Try to apply sunscreen 15-30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply soon after to ensure that you get even coverage. Think of it as painting a wall - the first coat fills in any rough bits and the second gives an even layer.
Reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if washed, rubbed or sweated off. Even sunscreens that claim to be ‘waterproof’ should be reapplied after going in the water. We also recommend reapplying ‘once a day’ sunscreens, just in case you missed a bit.
Never use sunscreen to spend longer in the sun - this will put you at risk of sun damage that could lead to skin cancer.
Apply to clean, dry skin and rub in only lightly.
Do not store sunscreens in very hot places as extreme heat can ruin their protective chemicals.
What factor sunscreen should I buy?
The SPF is a measure of a sunscreen’s protection against the UVB rays that cause sunburn and skin cancer. The higher the factor the more protection you get from burning. But higher factors provide little in the way of extra protection.
For example, an SPF15 sunscreen filters out 93% of UVB radiation, while an SPF30 sunscreen filters out 96%. It is a common misconception that SPF30 offers double the protection of SPF15.
No sunscreen - no matter how high the factor - can offer 100 per cent protection. And it will only provide the right amount of protection if it is applied generously and regularly. On average, people put on about a quarter as much sunscreen as they should - at these levels, research has shown that even a sunscreen with SPF80 only provides an actual SPF of 3.
It is impossible to compensate for too thin a layer by increasing the factor you use. Therefore, it is crucial that you apply sunscreen generously and regularly.
What are broad-spectrum sunscreens, and what is the star-rating?
Broad spectrum sunscreens block out UVA rays as well as UVB - these rays can also lead to skin cancer. In the UK we measure UVA protection with the ‘star’ system. Sunscreens can have anywhere from 0 to 5 stars. The number of stars is not an absolute measure and depends on how much UVB protection the sunscreen offers. For example, an SPF 25 with 3 stars may screen out more UVA overall than an SPF 10 with 4 stars.
How much sunscreen should I put on?
- You need to use around two teaspoonfuls of sunscreen if you’re just covering your head, arms and neck.
- You need around two tablespoonfuls if you’re covering your entire body, while wearing a swimming costume.
- If you do not apply enough sunscreen, you are getting much less protection than is advertised on the bottle. And you cannot compensate for light applications by using higher factors.
Brands of sunscreen
Cancer Research Australia does not endorse any specific brand of sunscreens. All sunscreens use the same method to determine how protective they are. This means that brand and price are less important than things like the SPF and star ratings, which tell you how much protection they offer.
Organic and inorganic sunscreens
When it comes to sunscreens, the word “organic” does not have the same meaning that it does when used on food. It does not mean that a sunscreen is “natural” or contains fewer chemicals. “Organic” is a technical term used in chemistry to describe molecules that contain carbon atoms. So the active ingredients in “organic sunscreens” contain carbon-based molecules, while the active ingredients in “inorganic sunscreens” do not - they are molecules like titanium dioxide.
Both types can help to prevent sunburn if used correctly - they just work in different ways.
- Organic sunscreens, also known as chemical sunscreens, work by absorbing ultraviolet rays from the sun.
- Inorganic sunscreens, also known as physical sunscreens or sunblocks, work by reflecting those rays.
Most available brands are now a mix of both types.
Some people find that inorganic sunscreens are harder to apply, and they end up putting less on. However, this is less of a problem for newer brands.
Inorganic sunscreens may be a better choice for children, because they are absorbed into the skin to a lesser extent and are less likely to trigger allergic reactions. Check for “titanium dioxide” or “zinc oxide” on the ingredients list.
However, both types of sunscreen work at protecting you from sunburn. The truth is that how you use sunscreen will have a far greater impact on reducing your risk of skin cancer than the type or brand that you pick.
P20/Once a day application sunscreen
Some sunscreens claim to provide effective protection after just one application. But we know that reapplying sunscreens regularly is very important because you are more likely to get even coverage and avoid missing bits that may then get burnt.
Are sunscreens safe?
Despite recent concerns, sunscreens and the chemicals they contain are safe ways of protecting your skin against sunburn. On this page, we’ll examine some of the concerns about sunscreen safety and what the science tells us.
Sunscreens and melanoma
If used correctly, sunscreens are a good way of preventing sunburn. And yet, some studies have found that sunscreen users are not less likely to develop melanoma skin cancer. This is almost certainly because many people do not use sunscreen in the right way. Studies have found that people put on much less sunscreen than they should. They also tend to use sunscreen as an excuse to stay out for longer in the sun and avoid other measures like covering up with clothes or spending time in the shade. Because of this, many sunscreen users actually end up getting even more exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun than they would have done otherwise. This is why it is very important to apply sunscreen correctly, generously and regularly.
One study suggested that when sunscreen chemicals are absorbed into the skin and exposed to ultraviolet (UV) radiation, they can produce molecules called ‘free radicals’. These have the potential to damage DNA. This study only looked at cultured skin cells in a laboratory setting, so it is too early to say for sure if the same thing happens in real people. And even so, the study only found a problem if sunscreen is not used properly. The researchers themselves said that there is no danger if sunscreen is used generously and reapplied regularly when out in the sun.
Many sunscreens use titanium dioxide and zinc oxide to reflect UV radiation away from the skin. These are called “inorganic sunscreens” or “sunblocks”.
Previously, these products were very difficult to apply and left a noticeable white sheen. This meant that people would either stay away from them or put on much less than they were meant to.Recently, manufacturers have got round this problem by using very small particles of these chemicals, known as nanoparticles. Because they are so small, they make the sunscreen transparent on the skin and much easier to put on. They also provide excellent protection against both UVA and UVB - the two types of UV radiation that can damage our skin cells.
Some people have raised concerns about nanoparticles in sunscreens, especially if they are absorbed into the skin. However, this is unlikely to happen in practice. Titanium dioxide and zinc oxide cannot actually penetrate into the layers of the skin that contain living cells. Several studies have tested this and found that these chemicals sit on the top layer of skin.
The bottom line
Despite these concerns, sunscreens are still a safe way of preventing sunburn provided that they are used correctly. It is important to remember that sunscreen will not protect us completely from sun damage on its own. This is why we recommend using sunscreens together with shade or clothing to avoiding burning in the sun.
When you know your skin type you can work out your burn risk and when to protect yourself.
UV burn risk table
- Low risk - no protection is needed.
- Medium risk - take care around midday and do not spend too long in the sun unprotected.
- High risk - cover up and spend time in the shade between 11 and 3. Use at least factor 15 sunscreen on exposed skin.
- Very high risk - be sure to cover up and in the shade between 11 and 3. And use at least factor 15 sunscreen.
We all need vitamin D to build and maintain strong bones. Our bodies produce vitamin D when our skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun. This is the main source of this vitamin.
Why do we need vitamin D?
If you are lacking in vitamin D for a long time then your bones may soften. In serious cases this leads to rickets in children and a condition called osteomalacia in adults. A little sunlight can go a long way. By enjoying the sun sensibly, everyone can make enough vitamin D while not increasing their risk of skin cancer. The amount of time you need in the sun to make enough vitamin D changes from person to person. It also depends on things like skin type, time of day, time of year, and where you are in the world. But the amount of sun needed to make enough vitamin D is always less than the higher amounts that cause tanning or sunburn. These high amounts can increase the risk of skin cancer. By taking steps to avoid burning, people can achieve a balance between reducing the risk of skin cancer and enjoying the beneficial effects of the sun.
If you are fair-skinned, have lots of moles and freckles or have a family history of skin cancer, it is important to use sun protection in summer to reduce your risk of skin cancer. Sensible sun protection shouldn’t prevent you producing enough vitamin D.
More sun doesn’t always mean more vitamin D
You don’t need to spend hours in the sun to feel the benefits of sunlight. In fact, extra time in the sun doesn’t mean you keep on producing more vitamin D. When your body has healthy levels of the vitamin any extra is just broken down. This means that spending a long time in the sun will not give you any extra vitamin D. But it will increase your risk of skin cancer.
Vitamin D in winter
From October to March our skin cannot make vitamin D because of low levels of UVB in winter sunlight. But for most people if normal levels are built up in the summer, our bodies store enough of the vitamin to last us through winter.
Who might not be getting enough?
People who are most likely to be lacking in vitamin D include:
- People with naturally brown or black skin
- People who wear clothing that fully conceals them
- Older people who don’t go outside much
- Pregnant women
- Breast-feeding babies with vitamin D-deficient mothers
There are ways to raise your vitamin D levels other than increasing your sun exposure. Talk to your GP about vitamin D supplements if you are worried about your vitamin D levels.Vitamin D is also present in foods such as eggs, fatty fish, fish liver oils and some fortified cereals.
Vitamin D and cancer
More and more studies are showing that getting enough vitamin D can help to reduce the risk of bowel cancer. Some studies have suggested that having enough vitamin D protects against other cancers too but the evidence is not consistent enough for us to say for sure.
You can read more about the links between vitamin D and other cancers on our blog.
By enjoying the sun safely and avoiding sunburn, people can reduce their risk of skin cancer and enjoy the beneficial effects of the sun. It’s possible to get the best of both worlds.
Responding to new research
We base our SunSmart messages on scientific evidence and review them regularly. Vitamin D is an important research topic and we will continue to update this section when new evidence about vitamin D and cancer becomes available.
Young skin is delicate and very easily damaged by the sun. All children, no matter whether they tan easily or not, should be protected from the sun. Children with fair or red hair, pale eyes or freckles are at most risk. Keep babies under six months out of direct sunlight, especially around midday.
Storing up trouble for later life
Skin cancer is very rare in children. But many skin cancers take years to develop. Damage to the DNA of our skin cells when young, may develop into skin cancer several decades later. The most serious type of skin cancer - melanoma - is the most common cancer in 15 to 34 year olds.
Studies have found that sunburn during childhood can increase the risk of skin cancer later on in life. This is why it is important to ensure that children stay safe in the sun.
Ten tips for protecting children in the sun
- Set good habits for the future Teaching children safe sun habits while they are young sets a good pattern for later life.
- Remember you can burn in the UK The Great British sun is quite capable of burning your child! Take extra care at home as well as abroad.
- Use shade Keep babies in complete shade: under trees, umbrellas, canopies or indoors. Provide shade for prams and buggies, if possible.
- Cover them up When outdoors, protect a baby’s skin with loose-fitting clothes, and a wide-brimmed hat that shades their face, neck and ears.
- Wear sunglasses Buy good quality, wraparound sunglasses for children, as soon as they can wear them. Sunglasses don’t have to be expensive brands.
- Find hats they like Encourage children to wear hats with brims, especially if they are not wearing sunglasses. The wider the brim, the more skin will be shaded from the sun.
- Use sunscreen wisely Use at least a factor 15 sunscreen and choose a “broad-spectrum” brand that has a four or five-star rating. Apply to areas that cannot be protected by clothing, such as the face, ears, feet and backs of hands. Choose sunscreens that are formulated for children and babies’ skin. These products are less likely to contain alcohol or fragrances that might irritate the skin and cause allergic reactions.
- Apply sunscreen regularly Put some on before children go outdoors, then reapply often to be sure of good coverage. Use waterproof brands if children are swimming or playing outdoors with water, and reapply after towelling.
- Don’t forget school times Remember play times and lunch breaks on summer school days too. Give children a hat to wear and, if they can’t apply sunscreen at school, cover their exposed skin before they go.
What about vitamin D?
We all need some sunlight to make enough vitamin D, but most of us get enough through casual exposure to the sun. Parents should not worry too much about short periods when their children might be out in the sun. But for longer times, the tips above will help to protect a child from burning in the sun. Infants and toddlers may need more protection. Indirect sun exposure may help a baby’s vitamin D levels. But if mothers have enough vitamin D while they are pregnant, then the chances are that their babies with do too. It is best to speak with your doctor if you are concerned about your baby’s vitamin D levels.
Sun protection for parents
Why is it so important for parents to protect children from the sun?
We know that children’s skin is naturally more delicate and prone to damage from the sun’s rays. Children also spend time outdoors in the strong midday sun during school lunch breaks and over the summer holidays.
Storing up trouble for later life
Children don’t get skin cancer, so why is it such a concern? It’s true that skin cancer is rare in children. But many skin cancers take years to develop. Damage to the DNA of our skin cells when young, may develop into skin cancer 15-30 years on. The most serious type of skin cancer - melanoma - is the most common cancer in 15 to 34 year olds.
Sunburn is particularly risky when we are young
The way we treat our skin in the first 21 years is crucial. If we spend this time in the sun, constantly trying to get a tan, or worse still getting sunburn, then we significantly increase our risk of developing skin cancer. A tan is a response to genetic damage caused by UV rays. Even a light tan is a sign that your skin has been exposed to too much sun.
Experts agree that reducing the amount of sun we are exposed to as children and teenagers, has a far greater impact on melanoma risk than a reduction as adults.
What can be done?
Young people’s skin is thinner and more sensitive; it can be damaged more easily. Sun exposure in the first 10 years of life largely determines your child’s lifetime potential for skin cancer. Melanoma, the most dangerous skin cancer, is the most common cancer in young people aged 12–24.
Children whose parents model sun protective behaviours are more likely to practice sun protection themselves. So remember the five steps to sun protection: Slip, Slop Slap, Seek, Slide and protect your family from skin cancer.
Teenagers aren’t great at protecting themselves. They worry about their image, feel covering up is a ‘hassle’ and, most of the time, just forget.
Parental insistence and role modelling can improve their sun protection. They are also motivated by:
- The need to prevent the embarrassment of sunburn
- The need to prevent ageing such as wrinkles and sun damage
- Health knowledge regarding skin cancer.
Here are some hints:
- Model good sun protection yourself by wearing hats, protective clothing and sunglasses, using sunscreen and seeking shade.
- Remind your teenager to protect themselves.
- Leave sunscreen and hats at the door.
- Allow them to choose their own hat, sunscreen, clothing, rash vests and board shorts, so the brand and style is acceptable to them.
- Time outings for early in the morning or later in the afternoon.
- Take shade to the beach.
Checking for skin cancer
Skin cancer found early can be treated early. When treated early, most skin cancers can be cured. If left untreated, skin cancer can be fatal.
It’s important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you so changes will be quickly noticed. Skin cancer is often visible (but rarely painful) making it easier to detect in the early stages.
All Australians, particularly those aged 40 and over, should check their skin regularly, at least with each change of season. Check all of your skin, not just sun-exposed areas. If you notice anything unusual, visit your doctor.
A mole or melanoma?
Almost all of us have moles. Moles are not normally present at birth, but appear in childhood and early teenage years. By the age of 15, Australian children have an average of more than 50 moles. Normal moles usually look alike. See your doctor if a mole looks different or if a new mole appears after the age of 25 - the more moles, the higher the risk of melanoma.
Visit http://www.sunsmart.com.au/skin_cancer/checking_for_skin_cancer for pictures on spots to watch and spots to see your doctor about.