And it all adds up – the more time you spend unprotected in the sun, the greater the risk of melanoma. It’s called ‘incidental sun damage’ and it could be doing a lot more damage to your skin than you realise. In fact, recent research from the Australian Cancer Council1 showed that half of weekend sunburns occur while people are going about day-to-day activities, with the home replacing the iconic summer beach scene as a key sunburn hotspot.
It found that over summer weekends, 50% of adult sunburn occurs during everyday activities such as gardening and chores around the house, along with passive recreation activities such as reading, enjoying a picnic in the park or having a BBQ. This figure dwarfs the 29% of adults sunburnt during activities at the beach, lake or pool, as well as the 21% sunburnt playing sport or taking part in other active recreation.
"These 'incidental' sunburns are catching people out,” says Craig Sinclaire, the Chair of Cancer Council Australia's Public Health Committee. “It may not occur to people that sun protection is just as important whether you are in the backyard, lying in the park or hanging out at the beach.”
Australasian College of Dermatologists' President, Associate Professor Chris Baker agrees, saying that skin is like a 'memory bank'. "It remembers all the time you spend outdoors unprotected, all the sunburns, tans and sunbed visits," he said.
"Throughout summer, when UV rays hit levels of 3 or above, skin will be damaged fast if it is not protected. This damage all adds up and increases your long-term risk of skin cancer."
Based on that research, a powerful new TV commercial by SunSmart Victoria demonstrates that ‘it all adds up’, warning that UV damage can still occur during day-to-day activities and challenging the notion that it’s only tanners or those with visible signs of sun damage that get skin cancer.
What does this mean to New Zealanders?
Simply put, it means we need to cover up in the sun, every day. New Zealand’s melanoma incidence rate is the world’s second highest2 – just behind Australia’s, where skin cancer is by far the most common cancer1. Whether by accident while hanging out the washing or walking to walk - or by actively trying to ‘get a tan’, any exposure to the sun adds up and increases the risk of skin damage and cancers such as melanoma.
The latest sunscreen guidelines advise that all New Zealanders (and Australians) should apply sunscreen every day when the UV index is predicted to reach 3 or above3 - not just in summer months.
The good news about skin cancer is that it can be prevented and, if detected early, can also be successfully treated. It's important to get to know your skin and what looks normal for you. If you notice any changes in size, shape or colour of an existing spot, or the development of a new spot, you should get it checked by your GP or a reputable skin cancer screening service as soon as possible.
So, how can you prevent incidental sunburn?
During these times, even if you’re only going outside for a few minutes, always follow the SunSmart guidelines: ‘slip, slop, slap and wrap’. Slip on clothing or slip into the shade; slop on a broad-spectrum, water-resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen; slap on a broad-brimmed hat; and wrap on sunglasses.
1. https://www.cancer.org.au/news/media-releases/one-in-two-aussie-sunburns-occur-during-everyday-activity.html/ 2. https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/cancer-trends/skin-cancer-statistics 3. When to apply sunscreen: a consensus statement for Australia and New Zealand, D. Whiteman, R. Neale, J. Aitken, L. Gordon, A. Green, M. Janda, C. Olsen, P. Soyer, on behalf of the Sunscreen Summit Policy Group, 25 January 2019.
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