'Extremely worrying': One in four Aussie teenagers get sunburnt every weekend

Photo: Cancer Council Australia
Photo: Cancer Council Australia 

Teenagers are being encouraged to "own your tone" during National Skin Cancer Action Week after new research found that over half a million teens are getting sunburnt on an average summer weekend.

The Cancer Council's National Sun Protection Survey looked at the sun protection of teens aged 12-17 over time, to determine just how well Aussie teenagers are protecting themselves from harmful UV rays.

And the results are concerning - there has been no significant decrease in teenage sunburn rates over the last 12 years. 

"The findings from the National Sun Protection Survey are extremely worrying," says Anita Dessaix, Chair, Public Health Committee, Cancer Council Australia. "Over half a million teenagers are getting sunburnt on an average summer weekend - increasing their risk of getting skin cancer in the future."

Ms Dessaix calls teenagers a "priority population" noting that they spend lots of time outdoors and not enough are adopting sun safe behaviour.

"The damage caused in the teenage years also significantly increases the risks of skin cancer in later life," she adds. "This data shows that urgent action is needed to do more to reinforce the "slip, slop, slap, seek and slide" message. Teenagers are smart but it has been 12 years since we have seen significant investment in a national mass media skin cancer awareness campaign."

Photo: Cancer Council/Facebook
Photo: Cancer Council

Looking closely at the five measures of sun protection assessed in the survey, Ms Dessaix notes that only 10 per cent of teens slipped on a sun protective top, 38 per cent slopped on SPF 30 or higher, 38 per cent slipped on a hat, 23 per cent sought shade and 21 per cent slid on sunglasses.

"Sunscreen was one of the two most common sun protection measures used by teenagers," Ms Dessaix says. "However, sunscreen is not a suit of armour and needs to be used alongside broad brimmed hats, shade, sunglasses and clothing, as well as applied correctly.


"We also know that many teens are wearing caps, rather than broad brimmed hats, leaving their neck and ears exposed."

There is some good news, however. The findings highlight that in the latest survey, teens were more likely to use three or more forms of sun protection compared to the three years prior.

During National Skin Cancer Action Week, the Cancer Council has joined forces with the Australasian College of Dermatologists to remind all Australians that sunburn is the result of damage to the skin - and we need to take action to prevent it.

"With two in three Australians diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70 and over 2,000 deaths due to skin cancer in Australia each year, it is vital to get the message through about sun protection in Australia," says Professor David Francis, President of the Australasian College of Dermatologists. "The single greatest risk factor for skin cancer is excessive exposure to UV and it is largely preventable by adequately protecting yourself from the sun."

Professor Francis notes that we should be using sun protection whenever UV levels are three or above.

"Bearing this in mind, we encourage teenagers to #OwnYourTone and protect their natural skin tone to avoid ending up red-faced this summer," he says. "By educating teenagers on the importance of sun protection, we can prevent a rise in the number of skin cancer diagnoses in the future."

More than 2,000 people in Australia die from skin cancer each year. And, at least 2 in 3 Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70.

Here are the five forms of sun protection:

  • Slip on sun-protective clothing
  • Slop on SPF30 (or higher) broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen
  • Slap on a broad-brimmed hat
  • Seek shade
  • Slide on sunglasses.

As well as taking these measures, it's important to get to know your skin and regularly check for any changes.


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Here's how to check for signs of skin cancer.