14 March 2016
We may be heading into the cooler months but we do live in the Sunshine State so it’s important to be sun safe throughout the year.
Ultraviolet Radiation (UVR) is the part of sunlight that causes skin damage (ageing, wrinkling and sunburn) and can lead to skin cancer. It is not related to light or temperature, so you can’t see or feel it. It can be reflected off surfaces such as sand, snow, concrete and water and is present on cloudy days.
The ultraviolet (UV) index provides an international measure of the sun’s ultraviolet strength. It is measured on a scale of 1 to 11+. You are at risk of skin damage when the UV index is 3 or above. You can check the daily UV index forecast for your area. For the Sunshine Coast in March it can reach up to 11 in the middle of the day.
The sun’s UVR is the major cause of skin cancer, but it is also the best natural source for the body to produce vitamin D. So how do we balance the need for vitamin D without damaging our skin, especially in this sunny country that we live in?
The amount of UV exposure needed to maintain vitamin D levels depends on the time of year and day, location, skin type, age, etc. The body can only store a limited amount of vitamin D at a time, so once you’ve received enough, spending more time in the sun won’t increase vitamin D levels any more, but will increase the risk of skin cancer.
The Cancel Council Australia has released a position statement on vitamin D exposure. Their key recommendation is that during summer (and probably autumn and spring in QLD) when the UV index is usually above 3, sun protection is essential. At these times of the year, most adults will get adequate vitamin D just from doing their typical day to day activities.
During winter, if the UV index is below 3, sun protection is not required. People can be outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered to support vitamin D production.
SunSmart has put out an app that lets you know UV levels, when you need sun protection, if you are getting enough vitamin D exposure and the weather forecast for any location in Australia and can be personalised for yourself and your location.
For the majority of the year you will need to protect yourself from the sun:
Slip on a shirt
Slop on broad spectrum SPF 30 or higher sunscreen
Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
Slide on sunglasses
Know your Skin
Cancer Australia tells us that in 2012, there were 1,515 deaths from melanoma skin cancer in Australia. However, if skin cancer is found early it can often be successfully treated. It is important to know your skin and check it regularly. The QLD Government recommends looking for:
New moles or moles that change in size or outline
A mole that becomes rough, scaly or ulcerated
Moles that itch, tingle, bleed or weep
A spot or freckle that becomes raised, develops a lump, changes colour or looks different from others
If you notice any changes it is important to have them checked by a doctor.