Australia’s UV radiation rates are peaking across the country, with levels four times higher than those considered dangerous to our skin.
Despite this, the beaches are crowded and experts are increasingly concerned.
As thousands flock to the coast of New South Wales to enjoy a sunny day, the UV Index from the Bureau of Meteorology shows levels well in the ‘extreme category’.
Originally developed in Canada, the UV index is a system designed to tell us how much radiation from the sun reaches the earth.
Once the UV index reaches three, fair-skinned people are in danger of getting burned.
Today in Sydney, the UV Index rating is 13.
Yesterday Sydney peaked at 13.7 while Brisbane hit a whopping 15.9.
Dr Stuart Henderson, Deputy Director of the Exposure Assessment for Electromagnetic Radiation and Ultraviolet Radiation (ARPANSA) said Australia is an outlier when it comes to the danger of ultraviolet rays.
“Eleven is where it starts to get really extreme, this is very rare in Europe, but we often get extreme values in summer that are much higher than that,” he told nine.com.au.
“For fair-skinned people, once it exceeds three, the World Health Organization recommends taking precautions to protect your skin.”
“In Sydney, in the summer, it will be most of the day, every day.”
But Professor Henderson said the ‘slip, fall, slap’ approach is not enough; in fact, we shouldn’t go out at all.
“Sunscreen shouldn’t be your first defense, it’s like your last resort,” he said.
“You should avoid going outside in extreme levels of ultraviolet radiation. If you have to go outside, you should cover as much as your skin can and sunscreen is the last layer for the areas you can’t cover.
Dr. Henderson said long sleeves, hats, and sunglasses are essential to stopping severe sunburn on days like today.
Being exposed to UV levels as high as 13 could damage your skin in minutes.
“The higher you go, the faster it happens. When it’s extreme, you watch five to ten minutes before the first signs of sunburn appear.”
Unlike a thermal burn, which is obtained by touching a hot stove or boiling water, sunburn is a radiation burn, the impacts of which can only become visible in the hours and days after exposure to ultraviolet light.
The extent of your burn could take more than 12 hours to fully develop and the impacts could last a lifetime.
Professor Henderson said parents should be especially mindful of taking their children out on days when the danger from ultraviolet rays is so high.
“The more sun exposure you have as a child, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer in the future,” he said.
“It is really important that we protect children as much as we can because they will live with the consequences for much longer.”
For someone considering laying on the beach for a few hours in the middle of the day with swimmers and a layer of sunscreen, the damage could be irreparable.
“It would not be a pretty sight … You will most likely end up with a severe sunburn, blisters and peeling skin, you will be dehydrated, you are at risk of developing skin cancer and other conditions that are not desirable at all.”
Paige Preston, chair of the Skin Cancer Committee of the Cancer Council of Australia, said the scenes of Australian beaches full of people without adequate protection are concerning.
“It is very worrying … it is especially concerning given the level of ultraviolet radiation at the moment and the consequence is that we are the world capital of skin cancer.”
“The damage to the skin is cumulative; it is that continuous exposure that increases the risk of skin cancer.”