As we head into a ‘COVID normal’ summer, it’s important to remember how to protect yourself while enjoying the great outdoors.
Author: VicHealth works with health promotion experts like the Cancer Council to create a Victoria where everyone can enjoy better health and wellbeing.
Any coronavirus information mentioned is accurate at the time this article was first published (25 November 2020). For the most up-to-date information about coronavirus restrictions, please visit the source: www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au
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Many Victorians, especially Melbournians, have seen less of the outdoors than they perhaps normally would this year.
Now that restrictions have eased and the weather is starting to warm up, activities like going to the beach or pool for a swim, meeting friends in a park, going on a bushwalk or simply exercising near your home are becoming much more appealing than they were in colder months.
That’s why National Skin Cancer Action Week (November 15 - 21) is the perfect time to make sure you have all the tools to prepare for the warmer months and the extra time we all spend outside.
Why is sun safety so important in Australia?
Skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in Australia and we also have some of the highest skin cancer rates anywhere in the world, according to Cancer Council.
About 95% of these skin cancer cases are caused by unprotected exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun, but unlike heat we can feel and light we can see, we can’t see UV radiation. The good news is there are a number of ways to protect ourselves from UV radiation and still enjoy being outside.
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio says being sun smart is vital
VicHealth CEO Dr Sandro Demaio said that although lots of people have heard the SunSmart message before, it’s important to refresh the message as summer approaches.
“We can take a lot of pride in the fact that young people get reminders at school, which often have ‘no hat, no play’ policies, they have wide brimmed hats to protect the ears and back of the neck,” Sandro told Raf Epstein on ABC Radio Melbourne.
“Kids are coming out of school knowing what it is to be ‘sun smart’ really well. Knowing to put on sunscreen, knowing to check if it’s expired and making sure they seek shade.
“What we’re finding is, as people get a bit older, they’re starting to forget, and we just need to remind them.”
Sandro said the latest data from the Cancer Council showed that 1 in 4 people aged 25-44 years old were getting regularly sunburnt on summer weekends, and only 3 in 10 were likely to seek shade.
“We know that it only takes about 11 minutes to start burning your skin under high UV conditions and with the sun starting to come back out it’s important that people are aware,” he said.
How to stay sun smart this summer
Slip on clothing - it should cover as much skin as possible
Slop on sunscreen - SPF 30 or higher, broad-spectrum, water-resistant
Slap on a hat - broad-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire hats are recommended
Seek shade - trees, buildings or bring your own such as an umbrella
Slide on some sunglasses - they should meet the Australian Standard AS/NSZ 1067
Myths around sun exposure and coronavirus
During the pandemic there have been some myths circulated online regarding vitamin D, UV and their effect on coronavirus.
One false theory was that vitamin D may help reduce the severity of coronavirus. But there is no evidence or research to support this claim. While the sun is a source of vitamin D it is definitely not a treatment for coronavirus.
More time in the sun won’t necessarily boost your vitamin D levels (we can only absorb limited amounts), but it will increase your risk of skin cancer.
Another false theory was that UV exposure can kill coronavirus. This is a false claim as there is no evidence that coronavirus can be killed from UV radiation. However prolonged exposure can cause both short and long-term damage to your health, including skin cancer.
The most effective, evidence-based ways to protect yourself and others from coronavirus is to:
regularly wash your hands
physically distance from other people
follow other rules and restrictions in your area
The SunSmart website has answers to some frequently asked questions, including ones relating to coronavirus (COVID-19).
How to be sun smart in the ‘COVID normal’ summer
Follow the ‘slip, slop, slap, slide, seek’ guide to protect yourself from UV exposure. As it happens, wearing a face mask will help to provide more sun protection for your face.
Remember to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer after sharing sunscreen tubes or bottles with other people.
Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated. If you want to mix it up, check out our delicious summer mocktail recipes for a refreshing and hydrating alternative to alcohol products.
Remember to follow all current coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions and protocols. There is no evidence to suggest that extra vitamin D and UV exposure help treat or kill coronavirus.
Check your skin regularly for any new dark spots or changes in shape, size or colour of existing spots. If you do notice something unusual, see your doctor as soon as possible.
So while it’s important that we take the time to enjoy the outdoors this summer as we head into ‘COVID normal’, remember to take the time to look after yourself and your skin.