Known for the beautiful beaches and wonderful weather, many Australians are keen to spend as much time outside as possible during the warmer months. But with the highest incidence rate of melanoma in the world, along with New Zealand , it is extremely important to stay safe in the sun.
But how do Australians feel about this and just how much are they doing to protect themselves? We surveyed 1031 Australian adults to explore their habits and attitudes towards sun care, SPF and skin checks whilst partnering up with Samantha Russell, Medical Director at La Roche-Posay to provide expert insights into these topics.
43% OF AUSSIES DO NOT KNOW WHAT SPF STANDS FOR
Though high SPF sunscreens are everywhere you look in Australia, not all Aussies have an understanding of what SPF stands for or how the system actually works.
“SPF indicates how long a sunscreen formula can prevent the skin from burning compared to exposure without sunscreen. Unbeknownst to 91% of Australians, SPF only measures protection against UVB rays, not UVA radiation. To protect against both, it is important to seek out a high SPF sunscreen with broad spectrum protection.”
When looking at the numbers, only half of Aussies typically apply SPF50 or above to their faces and bodies. For SPF30, 30% of Aussies use this factor or below on their faces, and 26% on their bodies. Gen Z are more likely to use a lower SPF than other generations, with 23% stating they use SPF20 or lower on their face and 20% saying the same for their bodies. Almost a quarter of Boomers state that they do not pay attention to the SPF number in general.
Almost a quarter of Australians (23%) state that they apply sunscreen to their face multiple times a day, whilst 17% apply to their bodies with this frequency. When it comes to applying sunscreen on the body, over half (53%) state that they ‘rarely’ or ‘never’ coat this area.
Though sunscreen is recommended to be used consistently and regularly for sun protection, some may use it more or less frequently depending on the scenario.
Here, 36% of Aussies check the temperature to decide whether they need sunscreen for the day, whilst 41% check the UV rating to make their decision.
“Over time your sunscreen will become less effective due to UV absorption as well as sweating and friction. If you are outside, you should be reapplying sunscreen every two hours to remain protected.”
Despite recommendations, the study shows that over a quarter of Aussies (27%) don't reapply their sunscreen every two hours.
“You need to remain protected whilst in the water as UV rays reflect off the surface and can increase your exposure. It is advisable to apply your sunscreen and wait 15-20 minutes before going in the water to allow the sunscreen to absorb. Once you leave the water, make sure that you reapply for full effectiveness.”
Over a third of Australians admit that they avoid waiting 15-20 minutes after applying sunscreen to go in the water. Along with this, almost a quarter have stated that they never go back and reapply sunscreen after a dip.
A FIFTH OF AUSTRALIAN MEN HAVE USED A SOLARIUM
Exposing your skin to the sun without protection can cause changes to the skin, whether that be quickly or over time. When asked about the consequences of skin health for two hours spent in the sun without protection, 79% of Aussies stated that they would burn, whilst 30% stated they would tan.
“Despite 17% of Australians agreeing that “a light sun tan is a sign that I am healthy”, a sun tan actually indicates that UV radiation has damaged your skin. No sun tan is safe and exposing your skin to the sun without protection will only cause damage and increase your chances of skin cancer.”
Despite the concern of sun damage, over a third of Australians admit to purposely using less or no sunscreen for the purpose of a tan. Men appear to be chasing a tan more than women, with 11% of men stating that a tan is more important to them than wearing sunscreen for protection. A quarter of Aussie men purposely sit in the sun to work on their tans, compared to a fifth of women. Additionally, almost a fifth of Aussie men use tanning oil or tan enhancing products in the sun compared to only 11% of women.
Younger generations appear to be the biggest sun seekers, with almost half of Gen Z deliberately sitting in the sun to work on their tans, with 37% purposely using less or no sunscreen.
In saying this, the sun is not the only method of tanning that Australians have taken a liking to. 10% of women state they have used a solarium or tanning bed in the past, whilst this figure doubles for men. Not surprisingly, only 3% of Boomers have done this, while a striking 30% of Gen Z admit to this solarium habit. Luckily, some Australians do prefer a safer tanning method, with a fifth using fake tan products to tan instead of trying to achieve one naturally.
97% OF AUSSIE’S USE OTHER METHODS OF SUN PROTECTION ASIDE FROM SUNSCREEN
To gain an understanding on where Australian’s use sunscreen on their bodies, respondents were asked about which body parts they would apply to on a sunny day, a cloudy day and while they are at the beach.
The most applied area of sunscreen was ‘the face’ area. This was followed by the arms/hands and then neck. Interestingly, the most missed body parts were the scalp, lips, and feet. However, those body parts may be missed due to using other methods of sun protection, or because they cannot reach. In fact, 40% of Aussie men choose not to ask someone else to sunscreen a body part if they can’t reach, whilst 41% would put on more clothing to avoid the issue.
When it comes to staying safe in the sun, almost all (97%) of Australians use other methods of sun protection aside from sunscreen.
“Utilising multiple methods of sun protection at the same time helps to protect from exposure and keeps our skin safe, decreasing chances of skin cancer.”
HALF OF AUSTRALIANS HAVE NEVER HAD A SKIN CHECK
More than 95% of skin cancer in Australia directly relates to UV radiation exposure. According to the Cancer Council, Australia, along with New Zealand have the world's highest incidence rate of melanoma , which is a type of skin cancer.
Skin cancer is a common topic in Australia and unfortunately, 1 in 2 Australians personally know someone that has been diagnosed. 60% of Australians admit to being worried about skin cancer, however only 46% state that they know the signs to watch out for.
Having a professional skin check done throughout the year is one way to identify and detect the symptoms of skin cancer earlier. Despite 53% believing that you should have a professional skin check annually at a minimum, only 27% of Australians have had a professional skin check in the past year. In fact, only 50% of Australians have had a professional skin check…ever.
Russell explains what a professional skin check entails:
“A professional skin check is an assessment of the moles on the skin, usually carried out by a dermatologist or doctor. They are looking for signs of skin cancer. The risk of skin cancer increases with sun exposure.”
It seems to be younger generations skipping out on these checks, with two thirds of Gen Z’s admitting to never having a professional examination done - compared to 31% of Boomers. Of those avoiding the checks in general, over a quarter stated it was because they ‘didn’t realise it was something they should do’.
Additionally, a quarter of Australians admitted to not knowing how often they should get a skin check.
“A professional skin check is recommended every 12 months to monitor your moles. Identifying symptoms early can help to improve chances of successful treatment. So, in the meantime however, you can check your skin at home to recognize and identify new moles and changes to existing ones.”
“A popular method is the ABCDE guidelines. Using good lighting, follow the guide and check for A – Asymmetry, B – Borders, C – Colour, D – Diameter and E – Evolution. If you identify changes or concern, contact your doctor.”
Make sure to stay safe during the summer months by utilising sun protection and booking in a skin check as early as possible.
Methodology: In November 2023, we surveyed 1031 Australians 18+ on their attitudes and habits around sun care, sunscreen, and skin checks. Respondents are nationally representative by age, gender, and location. The results were split by total population gender, age, and location.
Stay In Touch