It’s May, so put your sun hats away, says SunSmart

Wednesday 7 May, 2008

Victorians can shed their hats and sunscreen from today - for a short time at least - without worrying about the risk of skin cancer, according to the Cancer Council Victoria's SunSmart program.

Director of the Cancer Council's Cancer Education Unit, Craig Sinclair, says hats and other forms of sun protection like sunscreen are not generally necessary in Victoria from May to the end of August.

"Sun protection is important when the UV Index reaches 3 or above, as that's the level that can cause skin damage."

"But from now until the end of August, average UV Index levels fall below 3, to a level that is not high enough to cause skin damage."

"We're conscious that people shouldn't compromise their Vitamin D levels by being SunSmart when it's not necessary."

"Therefore, we'll be advising schools, pre-schools and child care centres that they don't need to implement their usual sun protection policies in the next four months. We suggest children swap their sun hat for a warm hat from May until September."

Vitamin D is largely created in the body as a result of exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and is important for good bone health.

Mr Sinclair says people can maintain their Vitamin D levels by getting approximately 2-3 hours of sun exposure to their face, arms and hands each week during the months of May to September. People with darker skin need approximately 3 - 6 times that amount.

Mr Sinclair says most Victorians get enough sun exposure to maintain vitamin D levels, however some people don't get enough sun, particularly in winter, and risk vitamin D deficiency.

Groups are more likely to be at risk of vitamin D deficiency include:

  • naturally dark skinned people - who need more UV exposure to produce adequate levels of vitamin D as the pigment in their skin reduces UV absorption.
  • people who cover their skin for religious or cultural purposes
  • the elderly and people who are housebound or in institutional care
  • Mr Sinclair says vitamin D levels can be checked through a blood test, and inadequate levels can be easily treated with supplements.

"Anyone who thinks they may be vitamin D deficient should seek medical advice," Mr Sinclair says.

Mr Sinclair says there are some exceptions to SunSmart's ‘hats off' advice.

"People who are spending time at high altitudes or near highly reflective surfaces such as sand, snow and water will still need to use their hats, sunglasses and SPF 30+ sunscreen, as skin and eye damage can occur in these situations."

"Also, people in the northern parts of Victoria should continue to check the daily SunSmart UV alert as it may take a little longer for the UV levels to decrease in those areas," he said.

How to check UV Index levels:

The SunSmart UV Alert appears when the UV Index reaches 3 or above. You can find it on the weather page of all Australian daily newspapers, or on the Bureau of Meteorology website at www.bom.gov.au (do a search for ‘UV Alert'). When UV Index levels are below 3, the SunSmart UV alert will say ‘No UV Alert' and sun protection is not necessary.