The sun emits many types of radiation.
At the earth’s surface we receive mostly visible radiation (light) and infrared radiation (heat). Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is also present but we cannot see it or feel it. Ozone in the atmosphere absorbs much of the UV radiation but we can still receive enough to cause sunburn, as well as more serious health problems, particularly in Australia.1
During summer, more radiation reaches the earth’s surface, and this increases the risk of illnesses caused by excessive sunlight including: Sunburn, Skin Cancer, Heat Stroke and Eye Damage.
Sunburn can occur in less than 15 minutes and, depending on the severity, can take a few days or weeks to heal. There is no cure for the symptoms of sunburn except time. Mild sunburn can be treated at home, but severe and blistered sunburn needs prompt medical attention.2
Excessive exposure to UV radiation damages the skin permanently and may cause skin cancer, including dangerous malignant melanoma. Each time you expose your skin to UV radiation, even if you don’t become sunburnt, you increase your risk of developing skin cancer.2
Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world3. By the age of 70, two in every three Australians have been diagnosed with Skin Cancer1. Fortunately it is entirely preventable. Cancer Council Australia makes the following recommendations for avoiding skin cancer:
Protect your skin
- Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible
- Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30 (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
- Slap on a hat - broad brim or legionnaire style to protect your face, head, neck and ears.
- Seek shade - the more time you can limit in direct sunlight the better
- Slide on some sunglasses and make sure they meet Australian standards
Understanding Ultraviolet Radiation
Ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun cannot be seen or felt by humans. UV radiation can be high even on cool and overcast days. This means you can't rely on clear skies or high temperatures to determine when you need to protect yourself from the sun. The Bureau of Meteorology reports daily on how much UV radiation will reach the earth’s surface in the UV Index. The alert identifies times during the day when the UV level is 3 or above and sun protection is needed.
Cancer Council recommends using sunscreen every day on days when the UV Index is forecast to be 3 or above. Sunscreen should be applied 20 minutes before exposure to UV radiation and it should be applied liberally and evenly to clean and dry skin. Adults should apply 5ml (approximately one teaspoon) for each arm, leg, body front, body back and face (including neck and ears). That equates to a total of 35ml (approximately seven teaspoons) for a full body application.
When exposed to sunlight, sunscreen needs to be reapplied at least every two hours and after swimming, sport, sweating and towel drying. Sunscreen should be used in addition to protective clothing, such as a broadbrim hat, shade and sunglasses3.
Heat stroke, also known as sunstroke, isn’t necessarily caused by being in the sun; but rather by your body becoming hot. Heat kills more Australians than any natural disaster4.
Heatstroke is a life-threatening condition in which the body overheats. The high body temperature in heatstroke can lead to organ damage and death. You can avoid heatstroke by taking precautions in very hot weather4. Drinking plenty of water even if you don’t feel thirsty and keeping your body cool helps to prevent heat stroke.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency. If someone has heatstroke call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Meanwhile, give the person sips of cool fluid if possible and lie them in a cool shady place. Lower their body temperature any way you can.