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Queensland's winter sun isn't really a 'winter' sun. Here's why we should care.

Queensland Health
Thanks to our brand partner, Queensland Health

I grew up in Queensland.

I was part of the generation who never wore hats, ever.

We slathered ourselves in baby oil and spent way too long in the sun without sunscreen and thought we were cool.

Little would I know that 30 years later, I would need to get a basal cell carcinoma removed from the inside of my eye socket, because I didn’t pay attention to my own safety in the sun.

My childhood and young adulthood of sun exposure has meant that now I’m vigilant with protecting myself from UV radiation (ultraviolet radiation), as decades on I know the damage that I have incurred, and what I keep incurring if I don’t follow the very simple life-saving advice 12 months of the year, every day: slip, slop, slap…and now seek and slide.

Of course we know the first three: slip on protective clothing, slop on sunscreen, slap on a wide-brimmed hat. And the lesser-known ones are these: seek shade and slide on protective glasses.

Many people think that UVR damage is related to the heat of the sun. It isn’t. You are still at risk of UVR damage to skin and eyes in the cooler months.

You see in Queensland, UV levels are high enough in winter to still significantly damage your skin during any daylight hours – as early as 8am. In Queensland, the UV Index is three or above every day, all year round. During winter, the UV Index is typically between four and seven, a range that is categorised as moderate to high UVR – which explains why you might get sunburnt during winter, even on an overcast or cool day.

There’s a reason why the Sunshine State has been called the “skin cancer capital of the world” – unfortunately Queensland’s melanoma incidence rates are significantly higher than anywhere else in the world.

That’s why all of us spending time outdoors in Queensland need to be prepared. The Queensland Government’s Feel Good Facts website is a great place to start, offering tips around staying sun-safe all year round.

Why do we need these reminders? Well, one of the barriers to sun safety is that often we aren’t prepared and that situations where we encounter sun exposure can take us by surprise.

queensland sun
Use the five sun-safe practices to avoid sunburn and skin damage. Image: Getty.
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I find making sun safe choices is easier if it's just part of your everyday family routine. And if your kids see you doing it, they hopefully will copy that behaviour and be more likely to routinely use sun safety behaviours when they're spending time outdoors.

I found myself a really beautiful broad-spectrum SPF50+ sunscreen with a zinc component that works like a foundation. I keep this in my handbag at all times - it’s the best anti-ageing treatment money can buy.

Look for "broad spectrum" on your sunscreens, as this is what protects us from UVA and UVB rays - the causes of skin cell damage and melanoma. Choose one that has an SPF rating of 30 or higher.

There are so many everyday situations where we just forget to bring a hat or sunscreen, because we generally only associate sun safety with going to the beach or to the park.

But a lot of moments expose us to unexpected incidental UVR, like hanging out the washing, playing in the backyard or walking to the bus stop. Just the other day, I took my kids to lunch in a busy restaurant - it was crowded inside so we had to dine al fresco, in direct sunlight.

Fortunately, I keep a few hats and long-sleeve shirts in the boot of my car (a car sun safety kit, if you will). In my handbag I've got sunscreen for those "just in case" times when I'm out.

What I've found is that a long-sleeved cotton shirt can be your best friend. Treat yourself to a really nice soft cotton button-up shirt so you can easily throw it over what you are wearing and still look stylish. Being sun safe doesn’t mean you have to dress like a dag!

Throw in a few different colours so you have a choice - I keep them folded in a box so they’re not crushed into submission.

I also have a beautiful collection of light-coloured cotton sarongs - these can go over your shoulders when walking – they also double as a towel, and a tablecloth if you decide on a picnic.

And of course, one of the best presents you can get your family members is a good pair of sunglasses. A quality pair - look for an Eye Protection Factor (EPF) of 9 or 10, which indicates how well a sunglass lens blocks UVR.

Get sunglasses that your kids find comfortable and think are on trend so they’ll actually wear them. I always buy myself good-quality pair of sunnies because it means I don't end up asking myself all the time "where are my sunnies?" You have to care about them to make sure they are always with you.

I keep a spare pair in the car, and at the front door of my house I have a woven basket with spare sunnies for the kids. If you lose your sunnies at my place they go into the general use basket!

So as winter approaches, maintain your vigilance - and while you’re at it, pop out and buy you and your family a few new sun safe shirts.

For more helpful info, including myths and facts about sun safety, visit Feel Good Facts.

This content was brought to you with thanks by our brand partner, Queensland Health.

Queensland Health

Feel Good Facts is a series of quick little animations that bring to life all our different health facts and healthy habits. They are fun-sized chunks of information giving tips on how to make Queensland life feel even better.

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