Skin Cancer Prevention

What many people do not fully understand, is that the amount of heat and light that we perceive can have a poor correlation with the amount of ultraviolet that is beaming down at us and damaging our skins.

For example, it may be hot and very light in summer at 5 pm, but your chances of being burnt are minimal and no protection is required. On the other hand it could be cloudy and cold and dark at midday and you could be burnt to a crisp. What does the damage is the ultraviolet radiation, not the heat or the light.


Ultraviolet comes mostly from the sun. Other sources are solariums and welding, which produces the very damaging UVC.

Ultraviolet radiation rises slowly in the morning and reaches a peak in the middle of the day, then declines gradually. The worst time is from 11 am to 3 pm in summer (daylight saving time). At these times, the safest policy is to simply stay out of the sun altogether.

To see what the UV rating is on a particular day for your location, go to the Bureau of Meteorology website at

There are several forms of sun protection.

1. Staying indoors

2. Staying in the shade - but beware of reflected sunlight, particularly on light surfaces such as water, sand, concrete, snow.

3. Wearing a barrier such as a hat and clothing. A hat needs to cover the ears and back of the neck too if possible, so a broad-brimmed hat or legionnaire's hat is better than a cap. A shirt or rash-vest is protective as long as it has a close weave and doesn't let the light through - test it by holding it up to the sun. It should not let too much light through.

4. Sunscreens can provide a physical barrier with ingredients such as titanium dioxide, or a chemical barrier where the chemicals absorb the UV and nullify it or deflect it. If you normally take 5 minutes at midday to turn pink, then an SPF 15 will make you take 15 x 5 minutes or 75 minutes to go pink. However you will still go pink if you remain for 75 minutes, and the effect of the sunscreen will be reduced if you have rubbed it off with clothing or a towel or not applied enough. All sunscreens are ineffective for the first 15 minutes, and therefore if you arrive at the beach at midday and apply the sunscreen once you are there, you will have 15 minutes with no protection in which to get burnt. Always apply 15 minutes before exposure. You should also re-apply every two hours.

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