Sun protection for your skin
tanning; suntan; sunburn; skin; cancer; sun; protection; sunscreen; SPF; sunglasses; solarium; fake; tan;
We Aussies can be a strange bunch sometimes. We know the damage the sun does to our skin, and yet every year thousands of Australians, especially young Australians, bake themselves on the beach.
Spending some time in sunlight is useful. We get vitamin D from sunlight, but we don’t need much time in the sun to get enough vitamin D. Problems happen when we spend too much time in the sun without protection.
When you think about it, tanning is really just a fad. Before the 20th century, it was cool to look as pale as possible. It meant you were probably rich. In the 20th century everyone wanted to have a tan. What skin fad will this century bring?
Skin cancer is the most common cancer diagnosed in Australia, and Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world.
The Cancer Council Australia recommends:
- Slip on protective clothing
- Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
- Slap on a hat
- Seek shade
- Slide on some sunglasses
Remember to take extra care between 10am and 3pm when UV radiation is most intense.
Cancer Council Australia 'Be SunSmart'
The effects of sunlight
Having a tan is actually a sign that your skin has been damaged by ultraviolet (UV) radiation, which is part of sunlight.
There are three types of UV rays: UVA, UVB and UVC.
- UVB rays are the main ones to worry about. About 90% of UVB rays are absorbed by the ozone layer, water vapour (in clouds) and carbon dioxide before they can get to the Earth’s surface. Even so, UVB rays are the main cause of sunburn, suntan, skin damage, including skin cancer and eye damage. Even on a cloudy day, UVB rays can cause damage.
- Most of the UV light that gets to the surface of the earth is UVA and UVA rays also cause skin damage but not as much as UVB.
- UVC rays do not reach the earth but can come from arc welders and sterilising lamps.
People with different types of skin get different amounts of damage from the sun.
- People with fair skin and blonde or red hair have the least protection, while those with dark skin and black hair have the most.
- This does not mean that people with dark skin do not get skin damage, but it takes more exposure for them to get the same amount of damage. They do need to protect their skin from the sun too.
- Wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible - with long sleeves, high collars and long pants when you are out in the sun.
- A tight weave is important to block the sun.
- When swimming wear clothing made from materials such as lycra which stay sun protective when wet.
- Some clothes may even have UV information on them. The higher the UVP number, the better the protection.
- If you can see through the cloth, the sun can get through too.
- Wear a hat. This will protect areas of your body that commonly get skin cancers, such as the face (nose, lips and cheeks), ears, neck and the top of the head.
- Hats with a wide brim all the way around, legionaire hats or bucket style are best. Caps and sun visors do not give enough protection.
- Wear sunglasses. Close fitting wrap-around sunglasses give the best protection.
- Check to see they meet the Australian Standards – Eye Protection Factor (EPF) 10.
Sunscreens will not block out 100% of UV rays, so it is important to also cover up. Use sunscreens on parts of your body that you cannot protect in other ways.
- Use broad spectrum sunscreens with a Sun Protection Factor (SPF) 30+.
- Apply them thickly and reapply them 2 hourly – especially to places like your nose which you touch often.
- Most people do not put enough sunscreen on to give the full protection they need.
- Put the sunscreen on clean dry skin 20 minutes before going into the sun. If you have forgotten to put it on early, still put it on.
- Use sunscreens any time that you are going to be outdoors, because a lot of sun exposure happens while you are doing everyday things like walking home from school or having lunch.
- Sunscreen lotions and gels can dry out the skin and may irritate your skin. Creams moisturise, but this can make acne worse. Try different types to see which is best for your skin. Make-up with sunscreen in it can be a good ‘every-day’ option for many girls.
- There are many different brands of sunscreen. Expensive ones are not necessarily better than cheaper ones. If the one you choose is labelled SPF30+ it should give you the same protection as one that is more expensive.
- Water-resistant sunscreen should be used if you are going swimming and also if you will be doing anything that will make you sweat a lot.
- Zinc cream is a very good sunscreen, especially for the nose, cheeks and the tops of the ears. It completely blocks out the sun and you can see it so that you know if you have covered all the skin you want to cover. You can get zinc cream in many colours now inculuding skin colour.
Sunscreens last between 2 and 3 years in the tube (they should have a ‘use by’ date on the package) - but they get wrecked if the cap is left off or if they are left in the sun or hot places (like inside a car).
- Melanoma is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, and can happen in young people (while the other types of skin cancers usually don’t appear until later in life).
- Melanomas can develop anywhere on the body.
Sunburn needs to be treated like any other burn of the skin.
- Use water to cool the burnt area (at least 20 minutes under cold running tap water is best).
- It is important to prevent infection. Blisters should not be pricked because they can become infected.
- Bad burns or burns that cover a lot of the body should be seen by a doctor.
- Antiseptic creams should only be used on the advice of a doctor. They are rarely needed unless there are very large areas of bad burn with blistering and loss of skin.
- Anaesthetic creams (which numb the skin) may help a bit, but they can sting when you put them on, and they also can irritate your skin.
- Pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen may help.
- Anti-inflammatory creams (ones used for eczema) may be helpful - talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
- A weeping area may be more comfortable if it is covered by a burns dressing – see your pharmacist.
Tanning salons (solariums)
- A solarium is an artificial tanning machine that uses high levels of UV radiation to induce a tan.
- Any radiation which causes tanning, including 'sun beds', tanning beds or solariums, will cause damage to the skin.
- The use of solariums has been clearly related to the development of skin cancer - in particular melanoma.
For more information about the regulations and the Standard have a look at information on the Cancer Council SA website: http://www.cancersa.org.au/aspx/Solariums.aspx
- Using fake tan products so that you look like you have a tan is safer than cooking in the sun or under a sun bed.
- Skin dyes are painted, rubbed or sprayed onto the skin. They last for 3 to 6 days.
- They have not been fully proved to be safe, however, so think carefully about using them. If they don’t give you the colour you expected you will be stuck with it for a few days.
- Fake tans do not give any protection from sunlight.
- You still need to follow all the other skin protection steps.
- Some research in South Australia has shown that girls who use fake tan products are more likely to get sunburnt than those who don’t. Maybe they expose their skin more because they think it looks good.
- You still need to use sunscreens and also protective clothing, hats and sunglasses.
“So what does having a tan mean to you? Do you think it means you look healthy and wealthy? Now that you know a bit about the damage the sun can do, don’t you think not having a tan is a better sign of healthy skin? If you look after the biggest organ of your body, it will look healthy and beautiful for years to come.
Having a tan may be fashionable when you are young, but who wants to have skin which looks 40 when they are in their 20’s?”
The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Youth Healthline on 1300 13 17 19 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).