Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

The 7 biggest sunscreen mistakes people make

Blog post | 28 Jul 2022

Fewer Australians are seeking to tan their skin. Great news! But research by Cancer Council Australia shows that more than 50% of people still have a tan from sun exposure — this is a common sign of sun-damaged skin.

Heather Walker, chair of the Skin Cancer Committee at Cancer Council Australia, says, “The most likely culprit [of this] is incidental sun exposure as Australians go about their daily activities.

“It’s important for all Australians to use sun protection whenever the UV [ultraviolet] level is 3 or above.”

Two in 3 Australians will receive a skin cancer diagnosis in their lifetime. It’s important to know how to best protect yourself from the sun all year.

Here are 7 common mistakes people make when it comes to sunscreen and how to fix them.

Mistake 1: Skipping sun protection on windy, cloudy or cool days

Even when the weather isn’t sunny, you should apply sunscreen.

“We need to remind Australians that it’s UV, not heat, that damages our skin,” says Ms Walker. “You can get skin damage on a cloudy or cool day if the UV is 3 or above.”

UV radiation comes from the sun and is the major cause of skin damage and skin cancer. This means most Australians should apply sunscreen every day of the year.

To find out what the UV factor is in your area, you could use a mobile app. The Australian Government’s Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has teamed up with Cancer Council Victoria and the Australian Bureau of Meteorology to create the SunSmart Global UV app. The app allows you to check the UV level of your local area in Australia and when you’re overseas. The app is free to download on the Apple App Store or Google Play.

Mistake 2: Thinking sunscreen will lower your vitamin D levels

Studies have shown that using sunscreen hardly impacts on vitamin D levels over time. Most of us get enough vitamin D through incidental sun exposure when the UV level reaches 3 and above.

If you live where the UV level dips below 3 in winter, you can top up your vitamin D by spending time outside in the middle of the day.

Mistake 3: Going sunscreen-free while walking the dog

UV damage to your skin doesn’t only happen when you’re at the beach. Next time you’re gardening, walking the dog or picnicking with mates, keep sunscreen handy.

Mistake 4: Not applying enough sunscreen

You need at least one teaspoon of sunscreen per limb. That’s one for the front of the body, one for the back and one for the head. In total, it’s around 35ml, or 7 teaspoons.

Mistake 5: Forgetting to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours or after swimming

You should slop on sunscreen every 2 hours. You should also reapply it after swimming, sweating or towel drying. This is regardless of what the label says — water resistant SPF 50+, for example.

Mistake 6: Relying on SPF makeup

Unless it's SPF 30 or higher, you should apply sunscreen under your makeup if you're going outside and the UV level is 3 or higher.

Mistake 7: Using only sunscreen

Think 'slip, slop, slap' (that's slip on a T-shirt, slop on your sunscreen and slap on a hat). Sunscreen is far from the only protection you need. Apply sunscreen along with protective clothing, shade, a broad-brimmed hat and sunglasses.

Learn how sunburn is treated and get more sun protection tips.

This post was originally published on 10 January 2018 and has been updated to include the most recent details on this topic.

Want more content like this?

For health and wellbeing information, visit the healthdirect healthdirect blog.

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.