Frequently Asked Questions
Q. When is sun protection recommended in Canberra?
A combination of the 5 sun protection measures is recommended when daily UV levels reach 3 and above. So, depending on your geographical location your sun protection times may differ throughout the day and year. In Canberra daily UV levels reach 3 and above for part of or most of the day between August and May. Sun protection is generally not recommended around June and July, unless in alpine regions or outdoors for extended time.
The best way to know when sun protection is and is not really necessary is to view the daily SunSmart UV Index for your city or town. When daily UV levels are forecast to reach 3 and above the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) will issue a SunSmart UV Alert for your city or town which signals the time of the day when sun protection will be recommended as UV levels will be strong enough to damage unprotected skin (and eyes).
Q. Can our school still be awarded ‘SunSmart status’ even if we continue to implement sun protection all year round?
Not really. Current best practice is to adopt a combination of the 5 sun protection measures when UV levels are strong enough to damage unprotected skin and eyes- when UV levels reach 3 and above. Effective sun protection practices will not only reduce a child’s long term risk of skin and eye damage but should also ensure adequate vitamin D levels from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation (UVB) are maintained to allow for healthy bone development and maintenance, especially during the winter period.
Note: Primary schools that decide to continue with ‘all year’ sun protection are still encouraged to participate in the program but will not be awarded a ‘SunSmart status’ until they have updated their policy implementation period to meet national SunSmart standards.
Q. Isn’t it too confusing for students to take hats off during June and July?
Not really, children are clever. Being SunSmart is about being smart when in the sun and teachers can implement effective ways to do this, ie exchanging hats for beanies during June and July or perhaps inviting a student(s) to act as a "SunSmart monitor" in your school to check daily UV levels online etc
It is also nice for parents, carers and teachers to know that sun protection is not always necessary just because the sun is out and that there are times when you can safely spend time enjoying the sun without increasing your risk of skin cancer and nagging children to put on their hat!
A balance between too much and too little sun is important to maintain adequate vitamin D levels. It is also a good opportunity for your service to reinforce positive sun protection behavior when UV levels start to rise in Canberra- so around the beginning of August is a great time to once again remind parents and staff about the importance of sun protection and what is expected at your service.
A good slogan and a simple reminder that Canberra schools and services can adopt into their calendar of events is:
“The Beginning of August is Hats ON Again for All of Us”
“The End of May is Hats OFF Day”
Q. What does it mean to “minimise” time outdoors between 11am and 3pm during daylight saving time?
During the daylight saving time of the year (around October to March in Canberra) daily UV levels between 11am and 3pm will generally be HIGH to EXTREME and the potential to cause skin damage will be greatly increased during this period. Whilst it is best to try to avoid outdoor activities during this period if possible, we do recognise that schools have to manage a wide range of needs for the students under their care. Therefore, it is safer to at least minimise both the frequency (how often you go outside) and duration (how long you stay outside) of outdoor activities and events during this strong UV period of the year.
Q. Can we spend more time outside IF we have good shade?
The short answer is NO. Well designed shade (natural or constructed) is one of the most effective ways to reduce direct exposure to the sun’s UV radiation. However, even with good shade students can still be exposed to direct and indirect UV radiation because:
- They are active and move in and out of shade
- UV radiation can reflect in from the side, or from surfaces and walls, for example sandpits are highly reflective
- Even the best shade cannot block out 100% UV radiation.
Remember shade is just one component of your school's comprehensive sun protection strategy.
Q. How do I know if students are getting enough Vitamin D?
Vitamin D, which is needed to develop and maintain strong and healthy bones is made in the body when the skin is exposed to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. Almost all vitamin D comes from the sun’s UVR. A small amount of vitamin D can be obtained from some foods, such as fish, meat and eggs, but usually this is not enough to maintain optimal health.
In Australia most active students should receive enough UV B to maintain adequate vitamin D levels through the daily sun exposure they receive during their day-to-day outdoor activities, even with sun protection.
In real life settigs, like schools, regular use of sunscreen when UV levels are 3 and above should not interfere with vitamin D levels, this is because sunscreens are generally not applied correctly, areas of skin are missed and reapplication does not always occur after 2 hours. In most ACT schools, the emphasis is placed on parents being encouraged to apply sunscreen to their child before arriving to school, the responsibility is then redirected onto the student to reapply sunscreen throughout the day (ie before lunch and PE etc), this reapplication may or may not occur, and if it does, the quality of the reapplication may vary amongst students.
Students who may be more at risk of low vitamin D levels include those with naturally dark skin, those who may cover their faces and bodies for cultural or religious reasons and those who spend minimal time outdoors.
Q. What about dark skinned students at our school?
Students at school usually spend at least a total of 60-90 minutes outdoors during recess and lunch time each day. Given that greater sun exposure time is needed for people with very dark skin to produce adequate vitamin D levels, it is important for these students to have some sun on their skin during these periods. Whilst all students need to take care in the sun, students with very dark skin do not normally need to apply sunscreen because of their high level of melanin. This is a decision for their families to make. We do recommend that these students wear a hat (and sunglasses) to protect their eyes and face.
Q. Do dark skinned students need to worry about sun exposure?
Yes, care still needs to be taken in the sun. Even though the incidence of skin cancer is lower amongst naturally very dark-skinned people, skin cancers that do occur are often detected at a later, and far more dangerous stage.
Sun exposure can also cause damage to the eyes, such as contributing to the development of cataracts.
Cataracts have blinded around 16 million people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization, up to 20% of these may have been caused or enhanced by sun exposure, especially in countries close to the equator, such as India, Pakistan and parts of Africa etc.
High levels of UV radiation have also been linked to harmful effects on the immune system.
Q. Do students with very fair skin need more protection?
Yes, skin type is genetically determined and ranges from fair to dark (Type 1 to 6 skin). Students with very fair or fair skin that burns easily have a tendency to freckle and tan poorly or not at all. This is because skin that is white, fair or pale has little melanin. Melanin is the brown/black pigment that gives skin its colour which works as a 'natural' defence mechanism to protect the body from over-exposure to UV radiation. When skin is exposed to UV radiation, melanin reacts by becoming darker and giving skin a tanned appearance.
Over-exposure to UV radiation can damage all skin types, including olive and dark skins and those that tan easily. However, the risk of long term skin damage, sunburn and skin cancer is highest amongst people with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes.
Sunburn, especially during childhood and adolescence, is a significant risk factor for melanoma and other common skin cancers. It is also important to protect fair skin children from cumulative, long term exposure to UV radiation and never to rely on just sunscreen.
Q. Are sunglasses enforced in primary schools with a Cancer Council SunSmart status?
No, students who do choose to wear sunnies should be encouraged by teachers, carers and parents in these schools. Quality wrap-around, close fitting sunglasses that meet AS 1067 will offer best protection and when worn with a suitable hat can reduce UVR exposure to the eyes by up to 98%.
Cancer Council understands that the majority of students may be reluctant to wear sunglasses, however keep in mind that children do mimic their parent’s behaviour and therefore should be encouraged from a young age to slide on some sunnies when heading outdoors.
Q. Isn’t there a connection between sharing hats and head lice?
Not really. Studies have shown that lice need certain environments to stay alive and hats do not provide that environment. There is little risk of cross infection via hats. Some services prefer each child has a hat which stays at the centre / pre-school or family day care home so there is no chance of them forgetting it. For further information visit: www.jcu.edu.au/school/phtm/PHTM/hlice/hlinfo1.htm
Q. How should we apply sunscreen to young students at our school who may need assistance?
Advice from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) states that children who are able to apply their own sunscreen (under supervision) should be encouraged to do so. This fosters independence and responsibility. For those unable to apply sunscreen, it is recommended that if a carer is doing 'mass sunscreen applying' they should wash their hands before and after the task. They can use a different tissue for each child when applying the sunscreen, however, unless the child (or the carer) has a visible skin disease or a cold / virus, it is not really an infection-control issue. If a child does have a visible skin disease e.g. eczema or open skin wound, or a cold / virus their sunscreen should be applied last using gloves or a tissue. Sunscreen should be applied at least 20 minutes before going outdoors and reapplied every two hours.
Q. Aren't caps better than nothing?
Not much. Recent Australian research indicates that caps allow up to 100% of ambient UV radiation to reach the ears, sides of the face and back of the neck. These are the most common locations for skin cancers in later life. I will be happy to supply a copy this research to anyone who would like to see it.
* Gies, Peter; Javorniczky, John; Roy, Colin; Henderson, Stuart. Measurements of the UVR Protection Provided by Hats Used at School. Photochemistry and Photobiology. May 1, 2006.
Have not answered your question, contact Cancer Council ACT on 6257 9999 to speak with the SunSmart Services Coordinator.
Q. Do schools have to supply sunscreen?
Yes, schools have a duty of care to protect students and staff (OH&S) alike from any foreseeable harm, and over-exposure to UVR is clearly a foreseeable harm.
Schools should aim to make sunscreen easily accessible for all to apply. Locations may include classrooms, front office or a specified sunscreen application point. Students should also be encouraged to apply sunscreen before school ie at home or on the way to school, especially during the daylight saving period, and reapply after 2 hours- so before lunch.
Younger students may need special reminders or strategies to assist them with their sunscreen application routine throughout the day.
Students should also be encouraged to supply their own sunscreen, make sunscreen part of your school's 'book list' at the beginning of each year.