The importance of sunscreen in Australia and New Zealand is indisputable. Due to our climate, geography and lifestyle, we collectively vie for the title of skin cancer capital of the world, year after year.
Our high UV radiation levels and love for the great outdoors mean you need to wear sunscreen every day. However, with 4 in 5 Australians using their SPF incorrectly1,It is clear we still have a lot to learn.
As temperatures and UV levels rise, knowing how to protect your skin has never been so important. Read on to discover how sunscreen can reduce your risk of sunburn, skin cancer and premature wrinkles – today and tomorrow.
SKIN CANCER IN AUSTRALIA AND NZ
There’s no point in sugar-coating it – Australia and New Zealand have the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Approximately 80% of newly diagnosed cancers in Australia each year are skin cancer, with two in three Australians receiving a skin cancer diagnosis by the age of 70 (2).
Alongside nearly 980,000 new cases of less invasive skin cancer, more than 13,000 melanomas are diagnosed each year (3). The most dangerous form of skin cancer, melanoma is Australia’s third most common cancer (2).
Unfortunately, our near neighbours fare no better. Skin cancer is New Zealand’s most common form of cancer, and the country delivers more than 2000 melanoma diagnoses each year (4).
WHY ARE OUR SKIN CANCER RATES SO HIGH?
So, why exactly are skin cancer rates in Australia and New Zealand so high? Skin cancer is primarily caused by UV radiation – and, due to our geography, lack of pollution and ozone depletion, levels of UV radiation in both countries are high.
Australia, especially, has among the highest levels of UV radiation in the world. New Zealand’s mean UV Index (UVI) reading is significantly less; however, it’s still around double that of the UK.5
According to an article in The Conversation by Cancer Council WA’s Terry Slevin and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute’s David Whiteman, migration has also played a role. With European and British ancestry common Down Under, many of us simply don’t have the right skin type for our environment.
WHY IS UV SO HIGH IN AUSTRALIA AND NZ?
In the same article, the authors explain why UV is so high in Australia and New Zealand. And a lot comes down to geography.
“Generally speaking, the closer to the equator someone lives, the greater the amount and intensity of sun exposure they receive. That gradient is seen in a comparison of skin cancer rates across Australian states with Queensland reporting much higher rates than New South Wales, which is, in turn, higher than Victoria,” they stated.
Another factor is the earth’s elliptical orbit around the sun. “The planet is about 1.7% closer to the sun in January, during the southern summer, and 1.7% further away in July – northern summer. So… when the sun is strongest, the southern hemisphere is 3.4% closer to the sun than the north is during the summer. This increases UV by about 7%.
Add our lower pollution levels into the mix, and the authors say we receive around 15% more UV radiation than our northern latitude equivalents.
SUNSCREEN IN AUSTRALIA AND NZ IS ESSENTIAL
Pair these high UV levels with an enviable outdoor lifestyle, and sunscreen in Australia and New Zealand becomes a year-round essential. So much so that the risk of incidental, cumulative sun exposure has prompted sun safety experts to rethink their advice around sunscreen.
Where sunscreen application was previously recommended before planned outdoor activities, it’s now recommended as part of a regular morning routine6. According to the Cancer Council, this applies any time the UV Index reaches 3 or above – which for many parts of Australia is 365 days of the year.
However, a concerning number of us still make sun protection decisions based on heat rather than UV levels. This means many Australians and New Zealanders are failing to protect themselves during winter or on cool or cloudy days.
SUN EXPOSURE AND AGEING
If the risk of skin cancer alone hasn’t made you more vigilant about sun protection, consider this: Sun exposure is the biggest cause of premature ageing – responsible for 90% of visible changes to the skin.7
UVA radiation has the biggest impact and, unlike UVB, it’s ever-present. While burning UVB rays are weaker during winter, UVA rays remain constant throughout the year. Accounting for 85% of the UV radiation we’re exposed to, these rays have a longer wavelength and penetrate deeper layers of skin.
Able to cut through glass and cloud, they’re responsible for premature wrinkles, sagging and age spots. As a result, daily sun protection is the most important part of any anti-ageing skincare regime.
THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE
Worried the changing climate is putting your skin at greater risk? You have a good reason. According to the CSIRO, Australia's climate has warmed on average by 1.44 ± 0.24 °C since national records began in 1910. Most years are now warmer than almost any observed during the 20th century, and extreme heat events are more common.
Mean Australian temperatures have increased over the past three decades and are expected to increase further by 20308. A 2011 study also revealed an overall annual increase in UV radiation in Australia of 2% to 6% since the 1990s.
With higher temperatures, stronger UV and more time spent outside, the need for protective clothing and sunscreen will become even more essential.
HOW MUCH PROTECTION DOES SUNSCREEN GIVE?
So, how can you ensure your sunscreen offers you the best protection? When shopping around there are two main things to consider: the sun protection factor (SPF), and whether it’s broad-spectrum. The SPF of sunscreen measures how well it protects you against sunburn. The number (30, 50 etc) indicates how much longer it will take your protected skin to redden versus how soon it would burn without sunscreen.
So, if you’d normally redden in 5 minutes? You should be protected for 150 minutes by wearing SPF30 sunscreen.
While SPF30 filters 96.7% of UV radiation, an SPF50 sunscreen will filter 98%9. However, sunscreen must be applied correctly and regularly to work effectively – and it seems many of us are doing it wrong.
According to the Cancer Council, we need at least one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb, one each for the front and back of the body and for the face. In other words, seven teaspoons (or 35ml minimum) for a full-body application for an adult. Unfortunately, 80% of us apply too little1 – and many fail to reapply.
WHY BROAD-SPECTRUM IS BEST
For daily wear, the Cancer Council recommends wearing a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or above. A broad-spectrum sunscreen is one that shields against both UVA and UVB rays. In other words, one that protects your skin from premature ageing, as well as sunburn, skin cancer and sun damage.
In Australia and New Zealand, a broad-spectrum sunscreen is essential year-round. La Roche-Posay’s Anthelios range of sunscreens provides high-SPF, broad-spectrum sun protection for all types of sensitive skin. From dry to oily and acne prone.
For normal to dry sensitive skin, Anthelios Ultra Facial Sunscreen SPF 50+ delivers nourishing, broad-spectrum protection. Non-comedogenic and fragrance free, it contains antioxidant Baicalin to fight free radicals and a chemical and physical filtering system to shield skin against sun exposure.
Suitable for both face and body, the Anthelios XL Wet Skin Sunscreen SPF 50+ is an ultra-convenient sunscreen that can be applied to wet or dry skin. Formulated for the entire family and water resistant for four hours, it’s formulated for children’s sensitive skin.
For lightweight protection for the body, there’s Anthelios Invisible Spray Sunscreen SPF 50+. Non-greasy and non-comedogenic, it contains La Roche-Posay Thermal Spring Water for sensitive skin.
SUNSCREEN IS JUST PART OF SUN PROTECTION
From reducing the risk of skin cancer to helping prevent pigmentation and premature wrinkles, we now know why sunscreen is important in Australia and New Zealand. However, it’s only one step in sun protection, and there are other steps we need to take.
When the UV Index is 3 or above, the Cancer Council also recommends wearing covering clothing, sunglasses and a broad-brimmed hat and seeking shade.
Want more sun protection information and advice? Read our article on Sun Protection Tips for Kids and explore our range of Anthelios products in your local pharmacy or online.
ALWAYS READ THE LABEL. FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR USE.
Apply 20 minutes before sun exposure. Sunscreen is only one part of sun protection, so wear protective clothing and seek shade. Avoid prolonged sun exposure. Reapply every 2 hours and after swimming, towelling and perspiring in accordance with directions.
- Cancer Council Victoria
- Cancer Council Australia: Types of cancer – skin cancer
- Cancer Council Queensland: Information and symptoms of skin cancer
- Sunsmart NZ
- AIP Conference Proceedings 1810, 020003 (2017); https://doi.org/10.1063/1.4975499 Published Online: 22 February 2017
- Skin Cancer Foundation: Photo ageing
- Makin J. Implications of climate change for skin cancer prevention in Australia. Health Promot J Austr. 2011 Dec;22 Spec No:S39-41. doi: 10.1071/he11439. PMID: 22518918.
- ARPANSA: Sun protection using sunscreens
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