Essential summer sun protection tips to embrace as you get older

Nov 23, 2023
Australian summers offer great opportunities to enjoy beach trips, park picnics, or barefoot bowls. Yet, excessive sun exposure can harm your skin. Source: Getty Images.

Summer in Australia is arguably one of the best times to get out there and enjoy family day trips to the beach, picnics at the park, or a sunny game of barefoot bowls.

However, too much fun in the sun can lead to a not-so-fun time for your skin.

The skin is the largest organ of the body and the most visible one as well. Not only is it vital to our health, it is also highly visible and often equated with beauty.

Given the crucial function our skin serves and the importance of protecting our skin from harmful UV rays, Starts at 60 spoke with the TAL SpotChecker’s general manager of health services, Dr Priya Chagan in order to better understand what precautions to take in order to ensure the best protection for your skin while still having fun in the sun this summer.

Importance of protecting your skin from the sun

The skin offers us protection–a first line of defence–for the entire body. Lose just 70 per cent of your skin, as can be the case in severe burns, and the impact to your body can be incredibly detrimental. Besides the loss of vital electrolytes, you can also experience reductions in immunity which can allow infections to rapidly assault the body. The skin also regulates our temperature with sweat glands and blood vessels acting as a thermostat.

Unfortunately, skin cancer is one of Australia’s most common cancers with 2 in 3 Australians being diagnosed with some form by the time they turn 70 years of age.

While proper use of sun protection should not only be confined to the occasional beach trip, Dr Chagan states that less than 1 in 3 or 30 per cent of Australians take steps to protect themselves from the sun during times of incidental sun exposure. 

“Exposure to the sun during those ‘incidental’ moments in the day like walking the dog, waiting at a  bus stop, or even sitting near a window at home, when we’re not conscious of the risks, are of particular concern,” Dr Chagan says. 

“To ensure that skin cancer can be detected and treated as early as possible, we need to be more conscious of those incidental moments and routinely protect our skin before sun exposure, as well as regularly self-checking our skin and consult with a professional when there’s a concern.” 

Source: Getty

Sunlight, SPF, and ageing

Dr Chagan says skin can become more delicate as we age, through loss of fat and water content, leaving it vulnerable to UV rays. 

“It’s crucial for older adults to protect their skin from sun damage,” she says. “Sun exposure also breaks down the skin’s natural elastin tissue causing premature ageing like wrinkles and discolouration.”

“Taking precautions to limit sun exposure at all ages, in addition to taking preventative measures at all times, will help Australians of any age be more skin safe.”

If you’re someone who enjoys their days in the sun, it may be high time to invest in sunscreen that is guaranteed to protect your skin from UV rays and sunburn.

Sunscreen for the face v body: Does it matter which one you use? 

When it comes to choosing the right sunscreen to use, Dr Chagan wants you to keep in mind that most sunscreens don’t come as a 2-in-1 formula for your whole body.

“Facial sunscreens are often formulated differently from body sunscreens and are typically more easily absorbed and feel lighter – differing in thickness, sensitivity, and oil content.,” Dr Chagan explains. 

“The protective ingredients of facial and body sunscreens tend to be the same and so in most cases, it doesn’t matter which one is used. However, if people do have sensitive skin, it’s recommended to use sunscreen on the face that is specifically made for that part of the body.” 

When it comes to application, rather than just applying sunscreen when outdoors, apply it first thing in the morning before getting dressed. The key areas are the face, neck, chest, arms, and legs – essentially any part of the body that is likely to be exposed throughout the day. 

The Cancer Council of Australia recommends applying a water-resistant sunscreen with SPF 30+ or above for at least 20 minutes before going outside as it takes that long to sink into the skin.

For optimal protection against sunburn, reapply every two hours, or directly after swimming or any activity that causes you to sweat or rub the sunscreen off. 

How do you self-check your skin? 

Unlike other cancers, skin cancer is one that you can typically see. Skin cancer could present itself as a new spot or an existing freckle or mole changing size, shape or colour over weeks or months. Regularly checking your own skin can help to maximise the chance of detecting skin cancer early, greatly increasing the chance of successful treatment. 

The Skin Cancer College of Australasia recommends using the “SCAN” method to look for spots or  moles that are; 

  • Sore – Any spot which is scaly, itchy, bleeding or tender and doesn’t heal within six weeks;
  • Changing – A spot that has changed in appearance (size, shape, colour, texture); 
  • Abnormal – A spot that looks or feels different, or stands out when compared to other spots  or moles or 
  • New – Any new spots that have appeared recently. 

If you see any spots that fall under any of these categories, consult a health professional straight away. 

The most effective skin cancer prevention regime will include daily sun protection, an effective self-checking routine and a professional skin check if you have any concerns. 

When should you see a professional

In addition to self-checking regularly, it is also important to chat with your GP about your risk level of skin cancer and when necessary, book a skin check. 

Be sure to keep track of any spots, blemishes, freckles, and moles. While they may be harmless, it’s important to seek professional advice if you notice them changing.

IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.

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