How can I minimise my risk of getting melanoma and other types of skin cancer?
Which sunscreen should I use?
What is the difference between UVB and UVA?
What does ‘SPF’ mean?
What SPF factor should I be using?
How often should you apply sunscreen and when?
How can I avoid overexposure to UV?
Do more expensive sunscreens provide better protection?
Do I need to be concerned about nanoparticles?
What can I do to minimise my risk of melanoma if I do get sunburned?
How can I make sure I get enough Vitamin D?
Does the use of sunscreens reduce the production of Vitamin D?
1. How can I minimise my risk of melanoma and other forms of skin cancer?
The simplest and most effective way to reduce your chance of developing melanoma and other types of skin cancer is to protect your skin from the sun.
Seek shade; sun can reflect off surfaces such as water, sand and concrete causing sunburn
Wear clothing that covers at least your back, shoulders, arms and legs
Wear a broad brimmed hat
Wear wrap-around sunglasses to protect both your eyes and the delicate skin around your eyelids
Apply a broad-spectrum sunscreen, with SPF of at least 30+, every 2 hours.
There is also some evidence that a healthy, low fat diet and stopping smoking are other ways to help lower your skin cancer risk. Sunbeds increase the risk of melanoma, so avoid them completely.
2. Which sunscreen should I use?
We recommend using a broad spectrum sunscreen (one which protects against both UVA and UVB rays) with a minimum SPF rating of 30+.
3. What is the difference between UVB and UVA?
UVB radiation is the primary cause of sunburn, and also causes skin cancer and premature ageing. UVB is most intense at midday when sunlight is brightest.
UVA radiation penetrates the skin’s layers more deeply than UVB, but is only a very minor contributor to sunburn. Like UVB, UVA can also cause premature ageing and damage to genetic material in skin cells (mutations) and can suppress the skin’s immune system- effects which increase risk of skin cancer. Unlike UVB, UVA can pass through window glass.
4. What does ‘SPF’ mean?
The Sun Protection Factor is a measure of how well a sunscreen prevents sunburn in human volunteers in a laboratory setting. SPF is a very useful way to rank the level of sunburn protection offered by different products, but it does not tell us how long a person can safely be exposed to natural sunlight. Sunscreens should be used in combination with sun-safe behaviours, clothing and hats and should not be used in order to prolong sun exposure.
5. What SPF factor should I be using?
The higher the SPF, the less UV will reach your skin during a given amount of sun exposure. Even small amounts of UV radiation, well below the sunburn threshold, can cause damage to the skin. Although an SPF 50+ product (which must have a measured SPF of at least 60) will in theory protect twice as well as an SPF 30 product, sunscreens can only reduce, but not completely block, UV rays.
6. How often should you apply sunscreen and when?
Every 2 hours, and after swimming and exercise.
7. How can I avoid overexposure to UV?
Seek shade or stay indoors during the hottest part of the day (10am-2pm or 11am-3pm during summer). Find out the UV index in your area.
8. Do more expensive sunscreens provide better protection?
Not necessarily. Providing a sunscreen is broad spectrum and has a SPF rating of at least 30+, it should provide sufficient protection when used sensibly, together with other sun-protective behaviours. There are a wide range of products available for dry or oily (acne-prone) skin, sensitive or normal skin.
9. Do I need to be concerned about nanoparticles?
Although there is no evidence that nanoparticle formulations of sunscreens are harmful, the nanoparticle ingredients are not in any case able to penetrate normal skin. Instead, they remain limited to the dead outer layer of the skin (the stratum corneum). In contrast, we know that even small amounts of UV radiation are carcinogenic (able to cause cancer).
10. What can I do to minimise my risk of melanoma if I do get sunburned?
The only way to minimise risk is to avoid getting burned. Proper use of shade, clothing, hats and sunscreens makes sunburn very easy to avoid. If you do get sunburnt, drink water to avoid dehydration. Avoid the use of potentially irritant creams or moisturisers containing fragrances or preservatives and consider using a bland ointment such as Vaseline or emulsifying ointment. If you have severe sunburn or blisters, see your doctor as anti-inflammatory ointments or tablets may be needed.
11. How can I make sure I get enough vitamin D?
Exposure to UVB radiation in sunlight provides the mechanism for more than 90% of vitamin D production in Australians. Most people will get enough vitamin D through daily outdoor activities and foods containing vitamin D. Minimum exposure of about 15% of the skin either side of the peak UV period (10am-2pm or 11am-3pm daylight saving time) will assist in maintaining vitamin D levels. Ideally, you should still protect your face with sunscreen all year round as this is an area particularly susceptible to sunspots (keratoses) and skin cancers. If you are unsure about whether you’re getting enough vitamin D, see your doctor.
12. Does the use of sunscreens reduce the production of vitamin D?
Normal use of sunscreens, in combination with a healthy active lifestyle, does not generally result in vitamin D deficiency.