Australians beware: sunscreen may not be enough to protect your skin

Australians have had the message about Slip, Slop, Slap for more than 30 years and for many of us, putting on sunscreen is a daily part of getting ready to face the often harsh and hot sun we are exposed to. But a new study has indicated that sunscreen may not be offering us the protection we need and that we could end up with skin cancer anyway. With two out of every three Australians developing skin cancer by the age of 75, this message is one that needs to be heard. In this article we ask the question, does sunscreen work alone?

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Sunscreen misconceptions

Dr. Greg Canning from Hermit Park Clinic and Skin Cancer Care has been reported in the Townsville Bulletin this month as saying that there are a number of misconceptions when it comes to skin cancer and that the belief that sunscreen will offer full protection is one of them.

He cites a study by researchers at the Australian Institute of Medical Research that showed that most people tend to apply sunscreen too thinly and too infrequently and that sunscreen tended to protect the skin from shorter UVB wavelengths, but not the longer UVA – meaning that it isn’t offering the full protection that we expect. Additionally, the sunscreen may protect against burning, but not the damage.

As Dr. Canning points out, skin cancer symptoms can occur in places that are never exposed to the sun, so prevention involves so much more than just applying sunscreen to exposed areas. It is much more complex.

What else should we do?

So, in addition to the application of sunscreen, it is wise to consider other ways to protect your skin from melanoma. These might include:

  • Staying out of the sun, especially during the middle part of the day when the sun is at its hottest.
  • Wearing clothing that covers your skin that is not sheer. This includes wide-brimmed hats and covered shoes. It could even include cotton gloves where appropriate.
  • Applying sunscreen thickly and often, especially if you are sweating or swimming.
  • Apply sunscreen before you need it rather than when you are already out in the sun.
  • Take the time to document and keep track of moles you already have and report any new moles – especially if you notice changes such as itchiness, weeping, crustiness or changes in shape or size.

If you live in Australia you may think that skin cancer is almost inevitable, but when caught early skin cancer is very treatable and it is certainly preventable too. So be cautious and vigilant.

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