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5 sun safety myths

Before heading outdoors this summer, brush up on your 'slip, slop, slap, seek and slide’ knowledge.

Charmaine Yabsley
December 2017

Despite our country being famous for sunshine, Australians are misinformed about sunscreen use, according to research by Cancer Council Australia.

“Two in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime,” says Craig Sinclair, chair of the Public Health Committee, Cancer Council Australia. “Sunscreen has been proven to prevent skin cancer, including the most deadly type – melanoma. It’s time to bust these myths and get the right information about sun protection.”

Here are 5 common misunderstandings:

Myth 1: water-resistant sunscreen won't come off

False.

“It's important to remember that water-resistant sunscreen is tested in a lab, not in real-world conditions,” says Heather Walker, chair of the Skin Cancer Committee at Cancer Council Australia.

“The product may say that it's 4 hours water-resistant, but you should reapply it every 2 hours as you're running around, swimming, sweating and towel drying.”

Sunscreen shouldn’t be used as the only defence against sun damage. Walker recommends using “SPF30 or higher, which protects against UVA and UVB rays, as well as following the slip (on a shirt), slop (on sunscreen), slap (on a hat), seek (shade) and slide (on sunglasses) rule.”

Myth 2: a small amount of sunscreen provides protection

False.

“Studies show that 85% of Australians don’t apply enough sunscreen,” says Sinclair. He recommends applying sunscreen 20 minutes before heading outdoors, reapplying every 2 hours and using the recommended amount: 1 teaspoon [each] per limb, front of the body, back and head.

Myth 3: sunscreen will stop me absorbing vitamin D

False.

The survey by Cancer Council found that 20% of adults believed that using sunscreen regularly would stop the absorption of Vitamin D.

“In summer most of us get enough vitamin D through incidental sun exposure – excess sun exposure, even for those with vitamin D deficiency, is never recommended,” says Sinclair. Sensible sun protection shouldn’t put you at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

Myth 4: I won't get burnt if I'm under an umbrella

False.

“You can get sunburnt under an umbrella as UV reflects off different surfaces,” says Walker.

“Shade is 1 of the 5 forms of sun protection, so you still need to wear sunscreen, reapply it every couple of hours and wear a hat, sunglasses and protective clothing.”

Myth 5: if I have dark skin, I don't need to wear sunscreen

False.

“Fairer-skinned people are most at risk of sunburn,” says Walker. “However, everyone in Australia is at risk because of the high UV levels. This is why we should all wear an SPF30 or higher sunscreen when the UV Index is 3 or above.

“Darker skin has a lower risk of sunburn and skin cancers. However, some research has found that skin cancers in darker-skinned people are found at a later stage, when they’re harder to treat.”

What's your skin type?

The Fitzpatrick rule provides a general categorisation of skin types. Types 1 and 2 have the highest risk of skin cancer, while types 4 and 5 have the lowest.

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