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4-minute read

It's important to protect your own skin and that of your children. Any sunburn is dangerous and can increase the risk of skin cancer such as melanoma, which is one of the most common cancer types in Australia.

About sunburn

Sunburn is damage to the skin caused by exposure to the sun’s rays. The rays that cause the damage are UV (ultraviolet). UV is a form of radiation. Too much UV light causes the skin to become hot, red and painful.

All people are at risk of sunburn regardless of race or skin colour. Sunburn can occur in as little as 15 minutes on a fine January day in Australia.

You should see your doctor immediately for severe sunburn, or if you are experiencing blistering, headaches, nausea, vomiting, dizziness or severe pain.

Whatever the weather, check the UV index

UV radiation is a potential health threat that you can’t see or feel. It can be high, even on cool and overcast days, which means you can't rely on clear skies or high temperatures to determine when you need to protect yourself from the sun. Most weather services in Australia provide a daily UV intensity rating because it's not possible to judge from other weather variables.

It's also possible to get sunburn while swimming or in the snow. This is usually caused by the sunlight reflecting off the snow, ice or water and burning your skin.

You should also check the UV index. When it is 3 or above, 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.

Are children more at risk of sunburn?

Exposure to UV radiation in childhood can greatly increase a child's risk of developing skin cancer later in life. Cancer Council Australia encourages parents and carers of children to take an active role in protecting children's skin by remembering to ‘Slip, slop, slap, seek, slide’.

Correct sun protection practices not only reduce a child’s risk of skin and eye damage, but also ensure they obtain enough vitamin D from sunlight in their skin to allow for healthy bone development and maintenance.

Young skin is also delicate and very easily damaged by the sun. Sunscreen formulas that are specifically for children are recommended for their sensitive skin. Cancer Council NSW recommends that children under the age of 12 months are not exposed to direct sunlight when UV levels are 3 and above.

Should I cover up my moles and freckles when I’m in the sun?

If you have lots of moles or freckles you're more likely to develop skin cancer, so you need to take extra care. Protect your body with sunscreen, protective clothing, a hat, sunglasses and shade when you’re outdoors. Keep an eye out for changes to your skin and report these to your doctor. Cancer Council Australia provides advice on how to check your skin on their website at

If I don’t get any sun, will I become vitamin D deficient?

Sensible sun protection does not put people at risk of vitamin D deficiency. For most people, adequate vitamin D levels are reached through regular daily activity and incidental exposure to the sun.

During summer, the majority of people can maintain adequate vitamin D levels from a few minutes of exposure to sunlight on their face, arms and hands or the equivalent area of skin on either side of the peak UV periods (10am to 3pm) on most days of the week.

In late autumn and winter in some southern parts of Australia, when the UV Index falls below 3, spend time outdoors in the middle of the day with some skin uncovered.

In winter, in northern parts of Australia, people will continue to maintain adequate vitamin D levels going about their day-to-day activities, so it's not necessary to deliberately seek UV radiation exposure.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your sunburn, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

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

Last reviewed: August 2017

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