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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

Consider clothes made from a close weave cotton to allow the skin to breathe. Cotton clothing is also cool and comfortable to wear.

To protect skin from UVR, clothing and swimwear need to have an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) of at least 30. 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.

The Australian/New Zealand Standard for Sun Protective Clothing describes standard laboratory procedures for measuring the UPF of fabrics and for labelling UPF rated clothing. Fabrics are assigned a UPF rating number and a protection category depending on how much UVR they block out.

UPF ratings and protection categories:

  • 15 - 24 UPF rating - 93.3 - 95.9% blocked (good protection)
  • 25 - 39 UPF rating - 96.0 - 97.4% blocked (very good protection)
  • 40 and over UPF rating - 97.5% or more (excellent protection)

Clothing made from fabrics with ratings higher than 50 are labelled as UPF 50+. Clothing with a minimum UPF rating of 30+ and swimwear with a minimum UPF rating of 50+ are recommended.

All clothing made from fabrics tested in ARPANSA recognised laboratories are labelled with a tag showing the garment's UPF rating.

Sunscreen

Apply water resistant, broad-spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen 20 minutes before going outside. Reapply every 2 hours. Make sunscreen part of your morning routine.

When buying sunscreen 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 1067:2003 and preferably have an Eye Protection Factor (EPF) of 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

Licence
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia (CC BY 3.0)
Last updated
10 November 2015
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