It's important to take a balanced approach to UV exposure – to help with vitamin D levels while minimising your risk of skin cancer by using a combination of sun protection methods.
Skin cancer kills nearly 1,900 Australians each year – more than the national road toll. Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. The good news is that skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Over 95% of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early.
Overexposure to UV radiation from the sun and other sources, such as solariums, is the major cause of skin cancer. It's never too late for prevention whether you're six, 16 or 60.
In Victoria from September to April, UV reaches damaging levels of 3 and above; increasing the risk of skin cancer. Check the sun protection times every day at sunsmart.com.au, in the daily newspaper or on your smartphone (as a free SunSmart app) and use a combination of the five SunSmart steps when protection is needed:
Remember that UV levels are most intense during the middle of the day.
During this time of year, most people with fair to olive skin need just a few minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun exposure to the face, arms, hands (or equivalent area of skin) for vitamin D. Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense. People with naturally very dark skin may need 3 to 6 times this amount.
In Victoria from May to August, when the UV falls below 3, sun protection is not required unless outside for extended periods, near highly reflective surfaces such as snow, or when the UV reaches 3 and above.
During these months, most people need between two to three hours of midday winter sun exposure spread over a week, to the face, arms, hands (or equivalent area of skin) to help with their vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need 3 to 6 times this amount of exposure.
If you're worried about your vitamin D levels, speak to your doctor. Levels can be tested with a simple blood test and options such as supplements can be discussed depending on your circumstances.
All Australians should become familiar with their skin. Check all of your skin, not just sun-exposed areas. If you notice anything unusual, including any change in shape, colour or size of a spot, or a new spot, visit your doctor.
The SunSmart program is world-renowned, leading the way in promoting a balance between the benefits and harms of UV. The program is jointly funded by Cancer Council Victoria and VicHealth.
Visit the SunSmart website for more information.