Cancer Council Sunscreen: UV radiation and skin damage

The sun’s ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the major cause of skin cancer. UV damage also causes sunburn, tanning, premature ageing and eye damage. The good news is you can prevent damage – and skin cancer – by being SunSmart. Australia has one of the highest rates of skin cancer in the world. Cancer Council has a wide range of sun protection products, specifically designed to protect Australians from our harsh climate. This includes apparel, sunscreen, sunglasses, hats and shade options. Premature ageing (alongside skin cancer) is one of the main effects of inadequate sun protection amongst Australians. For this reason, it is exceedingly important to ensure that when UV levels are three and above, the 5 measures of sun protection are used.

Premature ageing may appear as

  • Wrinkles (loss of elasticity),
  • skin sagging,
  • yellowish discolouration,
  • brown patches,
  • blotchiness,
  • sunspots,
  • and roughness.

Up to 80% of premature ageing, fine lines and wrinkles is due to sun exposure. Premature ageing is especially visible around the eyes, as the skin is much thinner in comparison to the rest of the body. Tanning without burning can cause skin damage and premature ageing. Ultimately, overexposure to UV radiation can lead to skin cancer.

In relation to sunscreen:

  • UV radiation is made up of three wavelengths – UVA, UVB and UVC. UVA and UVB can reach the earth’s surface and can contribute to skin damage and premature ageing.
  • UVA penetrates deeply into the skin (the dermis) causing genetic damage to cells, photo-ageing (wrinkling, pigmentation, blotchiness etc) and immune-suppression. UVB is what causes sunburn.
  • A sunscreen labelled broad-spectrum should be used, as this will filter out both types of UV. When applied properly, sunscreen protects the skin against UV damage including sunburn and tanning. Sunscreen use is also protective against sunspots and premature ageing.

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