Summer and bronzed Aussies – don’t let the myth kill

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, but a new study shows we still want a bronzed beach body.

Key Points

  • Research shows surprising number of adults prefer suntan to sun protection. 

  • The Cancer Council says there’s no such thing as a safe tan. 

  • SunSmart’s message to protect the skin is getting through. 

Summer is just around the corner and that means more time at the beach and in the pool. For a generation that grew up lying on beaches soaking up the sun with the help of coconut oil, protection from the sun meant a smear of white zinc cream on the nose and lips. 

Even today, older Australians appear resistant to ‘slip, slop, slap’ messages and to getting out of the sun. 

A national Cancer Council study assessing our attitudes to sun protection, and what we do about it, confirms old attitudes die hard.  

The study examined the sun protection practices of 2,154 Australian adults over the summer months and showed what the council describes as an “alarming number of adults still preferring a bronzed body”. 

Is there a ‘safe’ suntan?

Two in five adults (40%) reported they like to get a suntan, and 62% of respondents reported having tanned skin, with sun exposure being the most common method for achieving a suntan. 

Australia has the highest rate of skin cancer in the world. In 2021, it’s estimated that 16,878 melanomas will be diagnosed across the country, and every year almost 2,000 Australians lose their lives to the disease.  

The Chair of Cancer Council’s National Skin Cancer Committee, Heather Walker, said it was concerning to see so many adults still seeking a suntan.  

“Australians need to be reminded that there is no such thing as a safe tan. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, more melanin is produced causing the skin to darken. This is what we know as a ‘tan’. A tan is a sign that skin has been damaged by UV radiation,” Ms Walker said. 

The results weren’t all grim

The research also showed that the majority of respondents (84%) protected their skin to avoid sunburn, and three in four (75%) respondents believed they could avoid skin cancer by regularly protecting themselves. 

The Cancer Council says there has been a “remarkable” drop in skin cancer rates over the years. However, there is more work to be done – particularly in combatting the myths around tanning. 

People need to understand that tanning also increases your risk of skin cancer. 

Alfred Hospital Victorian Melanoma Service Director Associate Professor, Victoria Mar, reiterated the dangers involved in tanning.  

“Sun damage accumulates over time, so even if you’re seeking a tan but not burning, the risks will be heightened and for some people this will result in skin cancer. That’s why it’s so important for Australians to use adequate sun protection and avoid tanning,” Associate Prof Mar said. 

Staying sun safe

In Australia, sun protection is advised when UV levels are 3 or higher. SunSmart recommends people:

  • Slip on clothing that covers as much skin as possible 

  • Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen 

  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat that shades the face, ears and neck 

  • Seek shade  

  • Slide on sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard for UV protection.  

If you’d like to know how to check for signs of skin cancer, view the guide from the Cancer Council. For more information visit the SunSmart website.  

Source: Cancer Council