New research says the greatest sunburn risk isn’t a day at the beach.

Image: iStock.

Here in Australia, we tend to associate the word ‘melanoma’ with the image of beach-goers sprawled across the sand.

While lying on the beach in a bikini on a summer’s day can certainly result in sunburn, there are other, much less obvious environments that pose an even higher risk of skin damage and potentially melanoma.

According to new Cancer Council research, the beach and other water or poolside activities are responsible for just 29 per cent of all sunburns sustained by Australian adults, while 21 per cent happen during outdoor sport and other forms of recreation.

The biggest culprit, however, is far more “everyday”.

Half of all sunburns are acquired during everyday activities like household chores and “passive recreation”. These could include a half-hour spot of gardening, hanging out the laundry, mowing the lawn, a backyard BBQ, or a leisurely afternoon of reading and picnicking in your local park.

Young woman picnicking.
Planning a picnic? Don't forget the sunscreen.

 

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There's a good chance you ticked off at least one of these activities over the weekend. But here's a question: did it occur to you to put on sunscreen or a hat first?

In situations like these, we don't necessarily think to take the same sun safety precautions as we would for a day at the beach. 'It's only half an hour,' we tell ourselves. 'I'll just make sure I pick a shady spot in the park,' we reason.

However, you don't need to be outside for hours on end to experience ultraviolet exposure.

The Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Public Health Committee, Craig Sinclair, told News Corp that residents of Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide can experience symptoms of sunburn after just 11 minutes in the midday summer sun. For Hobart locals, it takes 15 minutes, while the Brisbane sun needs just eight minutes to have an effect.

Weather myths can contribute to sun safety confusion - here, meteorologist Magdalena Rose dispels some of them. (Post continues after video.)

Similarly, a bright, cloudless sunny day isn't a prerequisite for sunburn. Even on the most miserably overcast or mild afternoon, harmful rays can still reach unprotected skin.

Today marks the beginning of National Skin Cancer Action Week, and the theme for 2015 is "UV: It All Adds Up" — focusing on the UV exposure we unknowingly accumulate by forgetting to take sun safety precautions.

It's an important message, considering two in three Aussies will develop skin cancer by the age of 70, and 11,405 new melanomas and diagnosed every year. The good news is, you can prevent its development by taking a few simple protective measures.

Time to get diligent with your sunscreen.

 

Of course, the ol' 'slip, slop, slap' routine comes to the fore. Just in case all those sun-safe ads and lectures from mum and dad didn't quite stick, the Cancer Council recommends you:

"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 two 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 – make sure they meet Australian Standards
Be extra cautious in the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense."

These days, there are some great sunscreens on the market that don't feel like an oil slick and won't result in that 'ghosty' look. Here are a few of our picks. (Post continues after gallery.)

There is also an app called the SunSmart UV alert, which will notify you when the UV level outside exceeds three and necessitates sun protection — which is handy, considering UV rays aren't visible to the human eye.

So next time you're heading to a BBQ or trying to work out how to start your lawn mower, prepare for it as if you're off to the beach for a day. Hey, when it comes to your skin there's no such thing as being over-protected.

How do you stay sun safe?

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