Be SunSmart

Kids at the beach (courtesy of Queensland Health)
The sun's ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the best natural source of vitamin D. However, too much UV exposure from the sun and other sources, such as solariums, is a major cause of sunburn, premature ageing, eye damage and skin damage leading to skin cancer.

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 2,000 Australians each year – more than the national road toll – and 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 and it's never too late for prevention, whether you're six, 16 or 60.

From September to April

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, via the free SunSmart app, or in the weather section of major daily newspapers, and use a combination of the five SunSmart steps when protection is required:

  1. Slip on sun-protective clothing.
  2. Slop on SPF30 or higher broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and re-apply every two hours. 
  3. Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
  4. Seek shade.
  5. Slide on sunglasses: make sure they meet Australian Standards.

During this time of year, most people will only need a few minutes of mid-morning or mid-afternoon sun exposure to help with vitamin D. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.

This can generally be achieved by going about day-to-day activities. Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense. Prolonged sun exposure does not result in increased vitamin D levels, but does increase the risk of skin cancer. Sensible sun protection should not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency.

From May to August

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 help with their vitamin D levels. People with naturally very dark skin may need more sun exposure.

To find out if you're getting enough sun for vitamin D, try SunSmart's vitamin D tracker, available on the free SunSmart app or online at sunsmart.com.au.

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.

Skin checks

More than 95 per cent of skin cancers can be successfully treated if found early. It's important to get to know your skin and what is normal for you so changes will be noticed quickly. 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.

SunSmart program

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, and is a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centre for UV Radiation.

Visit the SunSmart website for more information.

SunSmart videos


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