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Sunburn still a burning issue

Queensland scientists have shown that one in 10 Queenslanders is still getting sunburnt, despite decades of sun safe messages and the well-known link between sunburn and skin cancer.

The study, by researchers at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research and Queensland Health, showed that young men, in particular, were at risk of sunburn, with 22% of men aged 18-24 reporting a sunburn the previous weekend.

The study was conducted by Professor Adele Green, Louise Marquart and Peter O’Rourke at QIMR, and Susan Clemens and Catherine Harper from the Queensland Government’s Department of Health.

Lead author, Queensland Australian of the Year and QIMR Professor Adele Green, said sunburn was a critical public health concern.

“We’ve long known that sunburn is a key determinant of all major skin cancers, and that it can be prevented.

“But despite half a century of campaigns, sun protection in Queensland is far from optimal. Vigilance to avoid sunburn is essential among active adults. Men are still more likely to be sunburnt and need targeted encouragement to practise prevention measures.”

The report, published in today’s issue of The Medical Journal of Australia involved phone surveys of 16,473 adult Queenslanders in 2009-10.

12.9% of the men surveyed reported a sunburn the previous weekend and 8.6% of the women. Age was a key factor. People aged 18 to 24 were seven times more likely to report sunburn compared with those over 65 and those aged 25 to 44 were five times more likely than the older group. Sunburn was less likely among people who generally took sun-protective measures.

The study found sunburn wasn’t related to where a person lived, their socio-economic status, skin colour, or body weight. However key associations were: being in the workforce, being physically active, and not having a tertiary education.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said the cooler months were no excuse to drop sun safety behaviours.
“We know the five best practice sun safety behaviour are: wearing a broad brimmed hat, wrap-around sunglasses and a long sleeve top, using SPF 30+ or higher sunscreen, and seeking shade.

“But fewer than 3% of people practise all five behaviours in winter. Given that ultraviolet radiation levels are above a UV index of 3 all year round, sun safety is as important in winter as in summer in Queensland.”

Queensland Health’s Preventive Health Unit is working to target high-risk groups, including schoolchildren, young people, and outdoor workers.

“I’d also encourage Queenslanders to download the free Sun Effects Booth app for smart phones and tablets. At the press of a button you can access sun safety information, including the expected UV index in your location,” Dr Young said.

The app also allows the user to upload a photo of their face to see how they might look in the future.

The study can be viewed at