UV – why is balance important?
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is both the major cause of skin cancer and the best natural source of vitamin D. For best health, it is important to take a balanced approach to UV exposure that reflects the varying levels of UV throughout the year and across Victoria.
Every year more than 1700 Australian’s die from skin cancer annually more than the national road toll. The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers in Australia. Overexposure to UV can cause skin damage eye damage and skin cancer. Childhood and adolescence are critical periods when sun exposure is more likely to contribute to skin cancer in later life.
Vitamin D is important for the development and maintenance of healthy bones, muscles and teeth and for general health.
What to do- UV levels 3 and above?
In Victoria UV levels generally reach 3 and above from September to April. During this time a combination of five UV protection measures are required including sun protection clothing, SPF30+ sunscreen and lip balm (making sure it is broad spectrum and water-resistant), wearing a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears, seeking shade and wearing sunglasses (making sure they meet Australian standards). Particular care should be taken between 10am-3pm when UV levels reach peak levels.
People with naturally very dark skin (not tanned or olive skin) are relatively protected from skin cancer by the large amount of pigment (melanin) in their skin. They do not normally need to apply sunscreen but are recommended to wear a hat and sunglasses to protect their eyes.
From September to April most people need only a few minutes a day of UV exposure, outside of 10am-3pm to maintain vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin need three to six times this amount.
Everyone should check their skin regularly, at least every three months to detect any skin changes.
What to do- UV levels below 3?
In Victoria from May to August, when the UV is below 3, sun protection isn’t required unless near high altitudes or highly reflective surfaces like snow. Most people need approximately two to three hours of sunlight to the face, arms or equivalent area of skin, spread over a week to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need three to six times this amount.
To check the daily UV levels
The SunSmart program leads the world in promoting a balance between the benefits and harms of UV. It is jointly funded by Cancer Council Victoria and VicHealth.
Attitudes towards sun protection have changed dramatically since the 1980s Slip Slop Slap advertising campaign. 30 years on and Victorians are now more than twice as likely to wear hats and sunscreen. The SunSmart message has also evolved to include Seek shade and Slide on sunglasses and the program focuses on both the harms and benefits of UV.
While melanoma incidence rates in Victoria continue to rise, the rates of increase have slowed. There is now a slower increase in those aged over 60, and falling incidence rates in those under 60. These falling rates in younger people are consistent with a positive effect of the SunSmart program on behaviour change. In addition, earlier detection of skin cancer is leading to improved long-term health outcomes.
Recent achievements of the SunSmart program include:
- Positioned Victoria as a national leader in solarium legislation. There has been a 49% drop in the number of solarium sites in Victoria since solarium legislation was introduced.
- Participation rates close to 90% of Victorian primary schools. This is one of the highest participation rates of any public health program across Australia, reaching 400,000 Victorian children.
Visit sunsmart.com.au for more information about UV, skin cancer and vitamin D.