New sun safety advice for Australians aims to strike a balance between the risk of exposure to rays with the health benefits from vitamin D.
Research behind the new guidelines was published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.
It examines how Australia’s diverse population with varying skin types is impacted by exposure.
The guidelines are endorsed by health organisations including Cancer Council Australia.
The research was led by Professor Rachel Neale from the QIMR Berghofer medical research institute in Brisbane and released in a position statement.
“We know there are some health benefits to going out in the sun, but we also know it is the main cause of skin cancer which has a terrible impact on so many lives,” she said.
“We’re really trying to get the balance right so we can reduce the risk of skin cancer but also enable people to get the benefits of sun exposure.”
Vitamin D is important for bone health and comes from food, sun and supplements.
The research examined the impact of sun exposure across groups of the population with difference skin types.
The group with the lowest risk of skin cancer have deeply pigmented brown to black skin.
While these people are at the lowest risk of skin cancer, they are at highest risk of vitamin D deficiency.
They can safely spend time outdoors and routine sun protection is not needed unless they are in the sun for extended periods.
People in the group with the very highest risk of skin cancer include those with very pale skin that burns easily, and people with less pale skin but who have certain risk factors such as a family history of melanoma, a personal history of skin cancer, are immunosuppressed, or have lots of moles or moles that are large or atypical.
They should protect themselves from the sun at all times and discuss their vitamin D requirements with their doctor.
The final group are people with darker white, olive, or light brown skin who have an intermediate risk of skin cancer.
Sun protection remains very important but they can spend some time outdoors to maintain their vitamin D and gain other benefits of sun exposure.
Neale said the research’s overriding message was people should err on the side of caution by giving their skin a base level of protection from the sun.
Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide has been a key message by health authorities during Australian summers for generations and there is no requirement to change it.
“It is really important that everyone in Australia, apart from those with deeply pigmented skin, wears sunscreen daily. It should be part of your normal morning routine, just as routine as brushing your teeth,” Neale said.
“This needs to happen whenever the UV index is forecast to get to three or above, and for most of Australia that’s most of the year.”
People should also reapply sunscreen and wear hats, clothing, sunglasses and shade when outdoors to reduce their risk of skin cancer, Neale said.
Australia has the highest incidence of skin cancer in the world, at a cost of up to $2 billion a year.
Researchers hope the new findings will support the medical community in delivering more personalised advice to patients.
Community messaging is also being developed to provide people with information that is specific to their skin type and other risk factors.