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Five ways to be sun safe

In Queensland the levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) from the sun are high enough to damage your skin all year round, so it is important to use the five recommended sun protection methods whenever you are outside. You can be exposed to UVR from the sun through everyday activities like walking to the shop, waiting for the bus and hanging out washing. This exposure adds up and increases your risk of developing skin cancer.

Skin cancer is a serious disease that can cause disfigurement or death, but reducing your risk is easy.

Most of us know to 'slip slop slap', but did you know there are actually 5 ways to protect yourself from the sun?

Clothing

Choose clothing that provides a good level of skin coverage; that is at least elbow length sleeves and knee length shorts or skirts. Collars provide great protection for the back of the neck. Consider clothes made from a close weave cotton to allow the skin to breathe, and is cool and comfortable to wear.

The Australian/New Zealand Standard Sun protective clothing—Evaluation and classifications (AS/NZS 4399:2017) provides guidance about the sun protection properties of clothing for consumers by use of a protection classification and an Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) rating. UPF ratings are found on labels for swimwear, workwear, schoolwear and outdoor wear to assist consumers in selecting products that provide the best sun protection. Fabrics are assigned a UPF rating number and a protection category depending on how much UVR they block out:

UPF ratingClassification
15 Minimum
30 Good
50, 50+ Excellent

Factors that contribute to the UPF rating of a fabric are:

  • composition of the yarns - cotton, polyester, etc
  • tightness of the weave or knit - tighter improves the rating
  • colour - darker colours are generally better
  • stretch - more stretch lowers the rating
  • moisture - many fabrics have lower ratings when wet
  • condition - worn and faded garments may have reduced ratings
  • finishing - some fabrics are treated with UV absorbing chemicals.

Clothing can only protect the skin that it covers so protect your head and any exposed skin by wearing a hat, applying sunscreen and using shaded outdoor areas. Don’t forget to wear sunglasses to protect your eyes too. Sun protection is needed any time the UV Index is 3 or higher.

For further information about the Australian/New Zealand Standard Sun protective clothing-Evaluation and classifications (AS/NZS 4399:2017)

Sunscreen

As the UV Index is above 3 all year round in Queensland, it is recommended you apply sunscreen to your face, ears, neck and areas of skin not covered by clothing. Make this part of your morning routine to provide protection against the harmful effects of everyday sun exposure.

However if you are planning to be outdoors for longer periods of time, it is recommended that sunscreen be used in combination with other sun protection methods including clothing that covers as much skin as possible, a broad brimmed hat, sunglasses, seeking shade and where possible scheduling outdoor activities outside of peak UVR exposure periods.

Choose a broad-spectrum, water resistant SPF 30 or higher sunscreen; and look for an ‘Aust L’ number on the label to ensure the product has been passed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Check the ‘use by’ date to ensure the product has not expired. The sunscreen may not be as effective if it has passed its expiry date. Contact the manufacturer if you have any concerns.

When applying sunscreen, you should:

  • apply on clean, dry skin 20 minutes before going outside. This gives you the greatest level of protection.
  • apply generously to ensure you get maximum protection. On an average-sized adult, 35 ml should be applied; this is equivalent to at least 1 teaspoon of sunscreen per limb (i.e. per arm, leg etc.
  • reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, and more regularly if swimming or sweating.

Don't leave sunscreen in hot places such as cars, as excessive heat can reduce its effectiveness. People who have had skin reactions to sunscreen should try a different brand. Look for products that are labelled as suitable for sensitive skin and fragrance free.

Hats

Shade your face, ears and neck with a hat. Choose a well-fitting broad brim hat which will protect the face and neck

Caps and visors are not recommended as they don’t provide protection for the face, ears, and neck – places where skin cancers are often found.

  • Broad brimmed hats should have a brim of at least 7.5 centimetres wide. The brim width for children under 10 years should be proportional to the size of the child’s head, and ensure that their face is well shaded.
  • Legionnaire hats have a flap that covers the neck and meets the sides of the front peak to provide protection to the side of the face.
  • Bucket or surfie style hats should have a deep crown and sit low on the head. The angled brim should be at least 6 centimetres and provide the face, neck and ears with plenty of protection from the sun.

Shade

Get in the shade when you can—seek shade under trees and buildings, or bring an umbrella or portable shade structure.

Sunglasses

Wear sunglasses that meet Australian standard AS/NZS 1067:2016 and preferably have an Eye Protection Factor (EPF) of 9 or 10.

Choose sunglasses which protect the side of the eye as much as possible and fit closely on your face. Sunglasses prevent the formation of cataracts and other eye conditions later in life.

You may want to also consider shatter proof lenses for safety. Remember, cost does not relate to quality or the level of sun protection.

Sun safe ideas

  • Think about what you’re wearing – is your skin well covered?
  • Always grab your sunglasses and hat before you go outside
  • Walk on the shady side of the street
  • Keep spare hats and umbrellas in your car or bag
  • Plan your activities to avoid being outside in the middle of the day if possible

Protect yourself in 5 ways from skin cancer