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Sun safety: are you covered?

by Amanda Collins

Summer is a time for fun in the outdoors, for swimming and lazing on the beach, for gardening, outdoor entertaining, afternoon walks, and taking the kids to the park.

It is also a time when we need to pay special attention to our skin to make sure that all the time we are enjoying in the great outdoors is not going to result in sun damage or skin cancer.

So how can we get the balance right between making the most of the glorious long summer days, and keeping ourselves safe in the sun?

The skin and the sun

When you go out in the sun without sunscreen and get a tan or a sunburn, harmful UV rays damage your skin cells and cause mutations. Over time, and with repeated unprotected sun exposure, these mutations can turn into dangerous skin cancers and melanomas.

And for those of you also concerned with ageing, the sun’s rays are a major cause of fine lines, wrinkles, brown spots and skin texture changes.


Your first defence against the sun is sunscreen. Basically, what sunscreen does is reduce the amount of damaging UV rays that reach you skin.

Sunscreen needs to be applied 15 – 20 minutes before you go out into the sun.

Most people do not apply enough sunscreen to their skin and miss out on the full protection it can offer. To get full coverage, an average adult needs to apply around 35mls of sunscreen to their whole body and face.

When applying sunscreen, a good guide (for an average adult) is to use more than half a teaspoon of sunscreen to each arm, more than half a teaspoon to the face (including ears) and neck, and just over one teaspoon to each leg, the front of the body and the back of the body.

Sunscreen needs to be re-applied every two hours to remain effective.

What is an SPF rating?

How long does your skin take to start to burn without sunscreen? Is it 10 minutes? 20? 30?

SPF (Sun Protection Factor) refers to how long you can stay in the sun without burning. So to find out what SPF is best for you, take the number of minutes you can stay out in the sun before you start to burn and multiply this by the SPF number on your sunscreen.

For example, if it takes you 10 minutes to burn in the sun and you have a sunscreen with an SPF factor of 15 then you would multiply 10 x 15 to get the number of minutes your sunscreen will protect you.

Higher SPF ratings also mean that the sunscreen blocks slightly more UV rays. For example SPF 15 will block around 93% of UVB rays, while an SPF of 30 blocks around 97%.

Extra protection

Sunscreens are only one part of the protection story, and can’t protect you 100%, so it is important when out in the sun to also wear a hat and protective clothing.

The best hats for sun protection are broad brimmed or bucket hats as they protect your face, head, ears and neck. Choose a broad brimmed or bucket hat with a brim of at least 7.5cms.

Combine hats with good sun protective clothing.

Clothes that are dark coloured, tightly woven and cover the most amount of skin (like long sleeved shirts and full length pants) are the best for skin protection. They act as a barrier between the sun and your skin.

Keep your eyes safe

UV rays are not only hazardous for your skin, they can also harm your eyes by irritating them, causing swelling, excessive blinking, light sensitivity and snow blindness. Prolonged and repeated sun exposure can also lead to cataracts, cloudiness of the eye lens, eye cancer, cornea cloudiness, and other serious eye conditions.

To protect your eyes it is important to find a pair of wrap-around sunglasses that are close fitting, meet the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 and feature an EFP (eye protection factor) of 10.

Get your skin checked

Most skin cancers can be treated successfully if found and treated early. So if you see a suspicious spot on your skin, or if a freckle or mole has changed colour, a simple trip to your GP can save you a lot of pain and problems. You can also have your skin checked at a local skin cancer clinic or by a specialist like a dermatologist.

Still want that summer glow?

Lots of people still covet a golden summer glow, and they are able to get one without going in the sun. There are a number of natural-looking fake-tanning lotions, creams and sprays in the marketplace, and though they won’t protect your skin from the sun, they will give you a bronzed look.

With a few simple precautions, you can still enjoy all your outdoor activities without compromising your skin and your health. Before you step outside this summer, make sure you choose appropriate sun safe clothes, put on sunscreen, and pop on a hat and sunglasses. It’s simple, easy and will save you a lot of problems in the long run.

Interested in getting ahead this summer?

Open Colleges offers over 100 online courses to help you take your next career step this summer. Study online, in your own time and get the qualification you need to get ahead. Learn more here.

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