Sensible in the sun

Summer is in full swing, the kids are on holidays and it’s time to kick back and get some sun. But as we frequently get told, care and attention need to come with catching that sun.

In 2011/12 Australia had one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world, with more than 2,000 Australians dying from this disease, which is almost entirely preventable.

Fortunately, being sun-savvy is a simple and effective way to reduce your risk of developing skin cancer and ensuring the holidays are a pain-free, enjoyable time for all the family.

The amount of sun we need to keep us healthy versus having too much and putting ourselves at risk of skin cancer is outlined below.

The healthy side of the sun – vitamin D
The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is both the major cause of skin cancer and the best source of vitamin D.
So what is vitamin D? Vitamin D is a fat-soluble hormone that controls your calcium, iron magnesium and zinc levels. It’s main role is in the support it gives calcium. Calcium is very important for the development of muscles and bones and for preventing the deterioration of bone thorough out life. Signs of a vitamin D deficiency are not easy to pick up, but the long-term impact on a person’s health can be quite severe. Low vitamin D levels increase risk of musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoporosis. A healthy calcium level also helps prevent a number of other chronic diseases such as:
  • diabetes
  • multiple sclerosis
  • heart disease
  • some cancers (such as colon cancer)
  • stroke outcomes

Vitamin D forms in the skin when it is exposed to UV from sunlight. It can also be obtained from some foods such as eggs, cheese, lean beef and fish.

Sun and healthy bones

The best source of vitamin D is UV-B radiation from the sun. UV radiation levels vary depending on location, time of year, time of day, cloud coverage and the environment.

Adequate vitamin D levels for most of us can be reached through ‘incidental sun exposure’, which we get going about our everyday activities. During summer, the majority of people can maintain adequate vitamin D levels from a few minutes of exposure to the sun on their face, arms and hands outside of the peak UV times (the middle of the day when UV levels are most intense) on most days of the week.

In winter in the more southern states of Australia, where UV radiation levels are less intense, people may need about two to three hours of sunlight to the face, arms and hands, or equivalent area of skin, spread over a week to maintain adequate vitamin D levels.

Risk if vitamin D deficiency

People at risk of vitamin D deficiency include:

– naturally dark skinned people – who need more UV exposure to produce adequate levels of vitamin D as the pigment in their skin reduces UV penetration

– people who cover their skin for religious or cultural reasons

– the elderly and people who are housebound or in institutional care

– babies and infants of vitamin D deficient mothers, especially breastfed babies

– people with osteoporosis.

These people may want to consider a vitamin D supplement. (Bioceuticals D3 drops or tablets, Eagle Vit D3 spray)

When do I need sun protection?

We need sun protection when the UV Index is 3 or above. This varies across the country with the northern states having higher UV levels most of the year.

To check UV levels and the times sun protection is required, log on to the Bureau of Meteorology website at (search for UV alert).

Protect your skin

For best protection, The Cancer Council recommend the ‘slip, slop, slap’ approach.

1. Slip on some sun-protective clothing that covers as much skin as possible

2. Slop on broad spectrum, water resistant SPF30+ (or higher) sunscreen. Put it on 20 minutes before you go outdoors and every two hours afterwards

3. Slap on a hat – broad brim to protect your face, head, neck and ears

4. Seek shade

5. Slide on sunglasses

And importantly, stay well hydrated. Drink plenty of water, increasing your daily intake on hotter days and when you’re out at the beach. The average adult needs 2 litres of water per day for adequate hydration, more if undertaking activities that increase your perspiration.


Hechtman L, 2014, Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Sydney

Osiecki H, 2014, The Nutrient Bible. 9th Edn, Bio Concepts Publishing, QLD

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