health

It's not just the temperature we need to be concerned about this summer.

It’s never been easier to check the weather. No longer do you have to wait for the hourly weather reports – just whip out your phone, click on the weather app and you have all the info you need.

But if the temperature (or the chance of rain) is the only thing you look at, you need to rethink your approach – particularly when it’s the crazy hot weather most of the states have been experiencing this week.

UV radiation levels in Queensland are expected to reach as high as 17 this week, ranked “extreme”. People are generally warned to stay out of the sun at level three.

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Image: iStock

"It’s a common myth that you can tell when you need sun protection based on temperature, or that sun protection is only required on sunny, hot days. But in fact UV cannot be seen or felt – it’s not like the sun’s light that you can see or the sun’s warmth, which you can feel," says Craig Sinclair, Chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Skin Cancer Committee.

"You can still get sunburnt on a cool or cloudy day. It’s therefore important to look at UV levels to determine when sun protection is required."

Too much exposure or high impact UV levels can cause a number of health issues, including sunburn.

Listen: The sunscreen pact we all need to make. Post continues after audio.

"Sunburn is the best-known, however, it can also lead to premature skin aging, a number of skin conditions, inflammation of the eye, cataracts and skin cancer," explains Alecia Brooks, Portfolio Manager, Skin Cancer Prevention at Cancer Institute NSW.

"When UV reaches the skin, it can change the DNA in our skin cells. Damage to your DNA builds up over time. If it gets damaged too much that’s how melanoma begins."

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One of the most serious types of skin cancer, melanoma can spread to your bones, heart, lungs or brain at just one millimetre deep.

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"However it’s important to remember that small amounts of UV – the amount that we get in our incidental exposure (a short walk to or from work or out to lunch for example) can be a good thing for our health in providing our bodies with adequate Vitamin D," she says.

With two in three Australians being diagnosed with (easily preventable) skin cancer by aged 70, it's so important to pay attention to UV levels and act accordingly.

The Bureau of Meteorology displays UV levels right under it's temperature predictions, which most apps should do too.

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Image: BOM

Skin cancer doctor Dr John Donnellan from the Bondi Junction Skin Cancer Clinic also recommends using the realtime UV index from the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), a free online resource that gives you direct and live information about the current UV levels in your capital city.

"I recommend patients bookmark it on their phone and use it to identify what protection they need to take that day as well as what they plan to do during the day," he told Mamamia.

"The orange 'Forecast UV Level' is the one to pay attention to."

The colour coded scale dictates what sun protection or precautions need to be taken, with green indicating levels one and two where you can go out with no protection, yellow representing levels three to six where hats, sunscreen and rash vest are required and beyond that orange, red and purple where it's recommended not to be outside.

UV-index-key

Image: BOM

With an hourly breakdown of the day' UV levels, you can ensure you're being as sun safe as possible.

"Plan your day so any outdoor activity is performed at times when UV is yellow zone or less. If you do need to be out, do it in the second half of day when UV is declining so if a task takes longer than expected, you're not exposing yourself to increasing UV radiation," Dr Donnellan says.

While areas with shade is good, sometimes it's actually not enough.

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"Have a preference towards areas where there is shade and away from things that are reflective such as large bodies of water, glass or light sand as they'll reflect UV even when you're under shade," he says. (Post continues after gallery.)

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"So a beach umbrella won't protect you. If you are in the sun and there are reflective areas, you're getting both direct and reflective UV radiation, so double the exposure."

If you must be out and about, the Cancer Council recommends slapping on a broadbrim hat, wearing protective clothing (including a rashie when in water or shirt and longer pants or skirts), sunglasses and to wear SPF30 or higher sunscreen.

The biggest advice Dr Donnellan has is to learn from your burn.
"Every burn, tan or new freckle is telling you you're going in the wrong direction," he says.
"If you don't take note of that and learn from mistakes, every day you'll burn more and more and your risk of skin cancer accumulates. It's something that's easily preventable."
Tags: heatwave , sun-safety , uv-levels
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