I Love a SunSmart Country

Dear Dorothea,

We really love the poem you have submitted to be an iconic representation of Australia’s rugged landscape but we were wondering if you might be open to a few small suggested updates?

I love a sunburnt SunSmart country,

Where everyone wears hats

And applies their sunscreen,

With shady spots for chats.

I love wrap-around sunglasses,

And clothing that covers people’s skin,

I love how we take UV seriously,

Because Australia is worth protecting!

We’ve learnt a lot about the dangers of sunburn since Dorothea McKellar published her iconic ode to Australia more than 100 years ago. No longer something to be romanticised, we know sunburn is the result of too much ultraviolet radiation (UV).

Not only does UV radiation cause sunburn, it also prematurely ages the skin, damages the eyes, and is the main cause of skin cancer. UV radiation can’t be seen or felt and the damage isn’t always visible until it’s too late.

The UV damage accumulated during childhood and adolescence is strongly associated with an increased risk of skin cancer in later life.  So schools have an important role to play in reducing the burden of skin cancer. There is no stronger proof of this than the latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures that show we are starting to see a decline in melanoma rates among people under 40 years – the SunSmart generation.

How are you protecting your students this summer?

The good news is skin cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. You simply need to know what to do and when to do it.

If we could see UV radiation, we’d see it reaching us directly from the sun, reflecting off different surfaces, particularly ones that are smooth, shiny and light coloured and being scattered by particles in the air. UV rays reach us at different angles and in different directions which is why a combination of sun protection measures is recommended.

The first step is to determine what the UV levels are and when sun protection is needed. The SunSmart app indicates daily sun protection times and UV levels for various locations across Australia. The sun protection times are forecast from the Bureau of Meteorology for the time of day UV levels are forecast to reach 3 or higher. At these levels, sun protection is recommended for all skin types. For example, in Victoria, UV levels regularly reach 3 or higher from mid-August to the end of April while in Queensland, UV levels are 3 or higher every day of the year.

Schools are encouraged to add the free SunSmart Widget to their website so students, staff and families can access the information daily and be protected from UV when they need to be.

Staff who work outdoors such as grounds staff and PE teachers are advised to use sun protection at all times as their UV exposure is greater.

Whenever the UV is 3 or higher

Check the daily sun protection times for your local area and during those times (when UV levels are 3 or higher), and it’s important to use a combination of these five SunSmart steps.

1. Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible.

Densely woven fabrics can be a great barrier blocking UV from reaching the skin.

Ensure your school uniform or dress code includes shirts that cover the shoulders and chest preferably with collars and elbow length sleeves. Choose shorts, dresses and skirts that are knee length and rash vests or t-shirts for outdoor swimming.

2. Slop on SPF30 (or higher), broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen.

It has been estimated that regular use of sunscreen during the first 18 years of life could reduce the incidence of non-melanoma skin cancer by around 60%.

Many people think the water resistance on a sunscreen label refers to reapplication times. Four hours water resistance does not mean sunscreen only needs to be applied every four hours. Most people apply far less sunscreen than is recommended by manufacturers which means the sunscreen’s potential to protect for four hours is lost. This results in sunscreen users achieving an SPF of between 50-80% less than that specified on the product label.

The Australian Government’s Therapeutic Goods Administration’s (TGA) regulatory guidelines for sunscreen labels include sunscreen application directions that state: the product should be applied to the skin in generous amounts over all of the exposed areas 20 minutes before sun exposure, it should be reapplied every two hours or more often when sweating, and should be reapplied after swimming or towelling.

Monitor the sunscreen expiry date and store it below 30°C.

3. Slap on a hat that protects the face, neck and ears.

Ensure your school uniform or dress code includes a suitable sun-protective hat.

Choose a wide-brimmed, bucket or legionnaire-style hat. Baseball or peak caps and visors don’t cut it because they don’t provide enough protection.

For students engaged in active play, hats that can be adjusted at the crown or can be tied at the front to help secure it on the head are best. If the hat is secured with a long strap and toggle, ensure it has a safety snap and place the strap at the back of their head or trim the length, so it doesn’t become a choking hazard.

4. Seek shade – make sure it is dense.

Good quality shade can reduce overall exposure to the sun’s UV. When combined with appropriate clothing, hats and sunscreen, students and staff can be well protected from UV when outdoors.

Shade comes in many forms. It might be natural (trees and shrubs), portable (umbrellas or tents) or built (covered outdoor learning areas, shade sails, pergolas or verandahs). Research shows that if schools build shade, students will use it. It’s important to ensure students have access to shaded spaces.

5. Slide on sunglasses, if practical.

Choose a wrap-around style that meets the Australian Standard AS/NZS 1067:2003 for good sun protection.

Wearing a broad-brimmed hat can also help reduce UV radiation to the eyes by 50%.

 

To help meet your duty of care and WHS obligations, make sure your school has a current sun protection policy that outlines appropriate sun protection measures for students and staff to reduce UV exposure risk.

For more information and teaching resources visit http://www.cancer.org.au/preventing-cancer/sun-protection/sunsmart-schools/ or call 13 11 20.

 

About the author

Justine Osborne is the SunSmart Early Childhood and Primary School Co-ordinator, Cancer Council Victoria. Cancer Council Victoria advises various groups, including government, on cancer-related issues, conducts and funds cancer research, advocates for cancer patients and their families, and organises programs targeted at cancer prevention, education and support. Jointly funded by Cancer Council Victoria and the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation since 1988, the SunSmart program leads the world in skin cancer prevention.

To get in contact with the Cancer Council in your state/territory, or for more resources and advice on the SunSmart Program, visit http://www.sunsmart.com.au/.

 

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