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Skin cancer prevention

3-minute read

Protect your skin

For the best protection against sunburn and skin cancer, you should:

  • Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible.
  • Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every 2 hours afterwards. Sunscreen should never be used to extend the time you spend in the sun.
  • Slap on a hat that protects your face, head, neck and ears.
  • Seek shade.
  • Slide on some sunglasses that meet Australian Standards.

Extra care should be taken between 10am and 3pm when UV levels reach their peak.

Sun protection times and the UV index

When UV levels (or the 'UV index') are 3 and above, the sun’s rays are strong enough to damage your skin and a UV Alert is issued by the Bureau of Meteorology and you should use sun protection.

The UV Alert is reported on the weather page of all Australian daily newspapers, on the Bureau of Meteorology website at and on some radio and mobile weather forecasts.

You can also check the UV Alert for cities and towns across Australia with this SunSmart widget, developed by Cancer Council Australia. Select your location and find out if sun protection is required.

For smartphone users, Cancer Council Australia’s free SunSmart app is a great way to check the UV Alert when you are out and about. iPhone users can download it at the iTunes App Store, and Android users at Google Play.

Applying sunscreen

Apply sunscreen liberally – at least a teaspoon for each limb, front and back of the body and half a teaspoon for the face, neck and ears. Most people don’t apply enough sunscreen resulting in only 50-80% of the protection stated on the product. Reapply sunscreen every two hours, regardless of the water resistance of the sunscreen.

Sun protection and babies

Evidence suggests that childhood sun exposure contributes significantly to your lifetime risk of skin cancer. Cancer Council Australia recommends keeping babies out of the sun as much as possible for the first 12 months. Where this is not possible, parents and carers should minimise exposure by:

  • Plan the day’s activities outside the peak UV times of 10am-3pm.
  • Cover as much skin as possible with loose fitting clothes and wraps made from closely woven fabrics.
  • Use a hat that protects the baby’s face, neck and ears.
  • Make use of available shade or create shade for the pram, stroller or play area. The material used should cast a dark shadow. They baby will still need to be protected from scattered and reflected UV radiation.
  • Keep an eye on the baby’s clothing, hat and shade to ensure they continue to be well-protected.
  • Babies aged under 6 months have highly absorptive skin so it is best to minimise use of sunscreen. Always test any product first on a small area of your baby’s skin for any negative reactions and only apply sunscreen to small areas of exposed skin that can’t be covered with hats and clothing.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2018

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