Opinion: We are still that sunburnt country

COVER UP: The message hasn't changed when it comes to sun protection.
COVER UP: The message hasn't changed when it comes to sun protection.

Aussies are forgetting to slip on a shirt for protection from the sun, leading to an alarming number of adults getting sunburnt on summer weekends. 

The latest Cancer Council National Sun Protection Survey reveals 17 per cent of NSW residents over the age of 18 get sunburnt on the weekend during summer.

That’s 881,000 adults damaging their skin on a weekend for three months out of every year. 

The survey figures reveal that the proportion of adults wearing a shirt for sun protection has decreased from 19 per cent to 17 per cent in the past three years. 

It’s why Cancer Council and the Australasian College of Dermatologists have joined together ahead of summer to remind Australians how to best protect their skin.

First the good news. We know there has been a noticeable increase in the use of sunscreen among adults.

In 2003-04, sunscreen use among adults in Australia was about 33 per cent. In the decade and more since, that figure has increased to now sit at about 42 per cent among adult Australians.

Sunglasses use has also been steady among adults at 61 per cent since the last National Sun Protection Survey in 2013-14.

While this is wonderful news, there is still a lot of work to do in educating our community on the importance of adopting a combination of sun protection measures.

Sunscreen is a great tool to help protect your skin, but it isn’t a suit of armour.

Aussies are slopping on sunscreen, while at the same time reducing their use of covering clothing and expecting to be protected all day long.

There has been no noticeable change in hat use among Aussies since 2003-04, while use of long-sleeved shirts or pants as a sun protection measure has declined.

The downward trend of some sun protection behaviours among adults is concerning and reinforces the need for continued investment in skin cancer campaigns.

We must ensure adults remain vigilant about reducing their exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

The president of the Australasian College of Dermatologists Dr Andrew Miller says we are getting the message when it comes to protecting our children from the dangers of the sun, but we need to look after our own skin as well.

“We often see Australian parents protecting their children with rashies, hats, sunscreen and shade – while not protecting themselves well,” he said.

“Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer in their lifetime, but it’s never too late to protect your skin from further damage. We want to see more adults setting a good example and joining their children in being SunSmart.”

Cancer Council’s free SunSmart program supports primary schools, childcare centres and out of school hours care services to develop and implement a sun protection policy that minimises student and staff over-exposure to UV radiation, reducing the risk of skin cancer. Two in three NSW schools are already SunSmart.

We know 95 per cent of all skin cancers are caused by exposure to too much UV radiation from the sun. We also know more than 12,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed in Australia every year and almost 1400 people die because of it.

Thankfully, melanoma rates in Australians aged 40 and under are dropping and the children of today are our most SunSmart generation ever.

However, it’s a real concern that sun protection behaviours overall don’t seem to be improving and that 881,000 adults in NSW are increasing their risk of skin cancer by getting sunburnt on summer weekends.

Our message remains the same – when you’re out in the sun, slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen, slap on a hat, seek shade and slide on a pair of sunglasses.

  • Aruni Ratnayake is the Community Engagement Manager (Programs) for Cancer Council NSW in  the Greater Western Sydney region