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By Sarah Wiedersehn
October 22, 2017
An increasing number of Australians are unsure of the safety of sunscreen, the findings of a national survey suggest.
Statistics from the Cancer Council's National Sun Protection Survey, to be presented at the World Congress of Melanoma in Brisbane this month, show only 55 per cent of Australian adults recognise that it is safe to use sunscreen every day, down from 61 per cent in 2014. The survey of 3,614 adults aged 18-69 years also found 17 per cent were worried that sunscreens contain ingredients that are bad for health, while separately 20 per cent believed using sunscreen regularly would result in not having enough vitamin D. The "alarming" results have been blamed on numerous sunscreen myths being pushed on social media.
"There has been a lot more said on social media; people have raised concerns about sunscreen whether they have experienced allergic reactions or experienced severe sunburn despite the use of sunscreen. This has attracted quite a lot of media attention," says Craig Sinclair, chair of the Cancer Council Australia's public health committee.
The reality is the weight of evidence is stronger than ever that sunscreen can have a significant impact on reducing melanoma, says Mr Sinclair.
"Sunscreens in Australia are strictly regulated by the Therapeutics Goods Administration to ensure that the ingredients they contain are safe and effective," he says. "Australians should be confident that they can use sunscreen on a daily basis — there is no evidence to suggest the ingredients are bad for your health. There are several studies that have shown that sunscreen use in real life has minimal impact on Vitamin D levels over time."
Associate Professor Stephen Shumack from the Australasian College of Dermatologists also stresses sensitivities to sunscreen are rare.
"A small number of Australians may experience sunscreen sensitivities that require follow-up with a health professional. Young babies in particular have sensitive skin - that's why we don't generally recommend widespread use of sunscreen in the first six months of life," says Dr Shumack. "If you do believe you have had a reaction, discontinue use and see a health professional who can help you identify the ingredient you are sensitive to. This will most likely be the fragrance or the preservative in the cream base."
According to cancer experts, working outside increases your risk of skin cancer by up ten times the average person’s risk. National Sun Protection Survey findings released last year by the Cancer Council show that around half of all outdoor workers, including construction workers, are missing out on sun protection due to lack of workplace policies on managing UV exposure risks.
Chair of Cancer Council Australia's National Skin Cancer Committee Vanessa Rock says the number of Australian workers spending long periods outdoors unprotected is 'alarming'.
"Over 2.5 million Australians spend half or more of their working time outdoors, yet only half of them says their workplace has a sun protection policy in place. There has been a minimal increase in the ten years since our first survey," she said.
Ms Rock says that with estimates suggesting that 34,000 non-melanoma skin cancers and 200 melanomas each year are linked to the workplace each year. Therefore, it is vital workplaces help their employees stay protected in the sun. "Australian workplaces have a duty of care to protect their employees for health and safety risks – we know anecdotally that bigger businesses are getting the message and doing more to protect their employees in the sun. Nevertheless, basing on this latest data, many employers aren’t doing enough when it comes to UV protection."
There are plenty of resources available to help manage the risks of UV exposure on the worksite. For example, the Victorian Cancer Council’s SunSmart program outlines the responsibilities both employers and workers have to ensure sun protection measures are in place.
The bottom line for tradies and building workers is: stay sun safe! Make sure you wear a hat with a brim, clothing that provides verified UV protection, slip on the sunnies, and slather on the sunscreen.
QUIZ: What is your safety IQ?
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