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You Can Get Sunburned in Australia’s Winter Season - Here’s Why

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When the weather starts to cool down after a long summer, it can be easy to get a false sense that you can’t sunburn in winter. However, the sun doesn’t take time off, especially in Australia, and it’s important to remember to maintain good sun protection habits throughout the year.

Let’s take a look at why you can still get a sunburn during winter and the best ways to protect yourself while enjoying your favourite outdoor activities. 

Can you get sunburned in the winter? Yes - Here’s what you need to know

It is a common misconception that you can only get a sunburn during the summer months. However, Australia has some of the highest UV levels in the world, and this doesn’t change during the winter months. Some statistics show that only 31% of adults practise sun safety during cold weather. Winter sun damage can happen even on the coldest days, and winter sunburns carry the same risks as those that happen in summer. These include premature aging, skin damage and skin cancer.

Every sunburn leaves a lasting impact

Apart from being painful and uncomfortable, sunburn damages skin cells and can potentially lead to longer-lasting effects. Even a mild sunburn can increase your chances of developing skin cancer, such as melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. Though the initial consequences of sunburn fade, the damage to your skin cells remains. The more often you’re sunburnt, the more you increase your chances of developing something serious. 

You can get sunburn on cloudy days

Overcast days don’t seem like they pose the risk of giving you sunburn, but it’s this false sense of security that can lead to a surprise sunburn. While overcast days may appear darker than clear ones, UVB and UVA rays still make their way through the clouds to your skin.

Australia’s average UV index in the winter

The UV index measures UV radiation on a scale from 0 (low) to 11+ (extremely high). Whenever the UV index rating is 3 or higher, you should practise sun protection. In Australia, Melbourne and Hobart are the only capital cities with an average UV index rating of under 3 during the winter. Below is the range that UV ratings can fall into throughout the states during winter:

  • New South Wales: 3–5
  • Victoria: 2–4
  • Queensland: 5–11
  • ACT: 4–5
  • Western Australia: 3–11
  • Northern Territory: 6–10
  • Tasmania: 2–3

As the above shows, every state has the potential to reach a UV index of 3 in winter, with some being much higher. Therefore, any sun exposure should be seen to using proper strategies to protect yourself from the sun’s UV rays.

Activities that increase your risk of winter sunburn

Though any outdoor activity will come with an increased risk of winter sunburn, there are some simple steps you can take to protect your skin against UVA and UVB rays while still enjoying the great outdoors.

1. Cycling

Going for a bike ride is one of the best forms of cardio, and it’s a fantastic way to warm yourself during the chillier months. However, without taking some precautions, cycling leaves you exposed to UV rays.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Apply broad spectrum sunscreen before each ride.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing to cover your skin against UV rays.
  • Try to ride in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid peak UV levels.

2. Working Outside

Whether you work on a construction site, are a tradie or have playground duty as a teacher, there are some jobs where you’re going to end up spending long hours in the sun. It is vital to protect your skin year round to avoid issues down the track.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Apply sunscreen and remember to reapply every four hours.
  • Seek shade when possible, such as during breaks.
  • Wear appropriate clothing to limit UV exposure.

3. Walking/Jogging

Walking is probably the easiest and most accessible way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. While you’re getting your ten thousand steps or taking the pooch for a walk, there are a few easy steps you can take to protect yourself.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Wear a hat and clothes that cover your skin.
  • Wear sunscreen, applied 30 minutes before you head outside.
  • Avoid walking during peak UV hours, usually in the middle of the day. If you’re walking your dog, they’ll appreciate this as well.

4. Visiting the Beach

It’s no secret that Australia is a beach-loving nation, and for some of us, the water is a little chilly, which isn't enough to keep us out of the surf. Whether you’re hitting the waves or just want to feel the sand between your toes, proper sun protection is still of the utmost importance.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Apply water-resistant sunscreen and reapply sunscreen every few hours.
  • Wear rashies, surf hats and clothing that limits exposed skin.
  • Seek shade during peak sun hours, usually in the middle of the day.

5. Winter Sports

Australia is an active nation and sport is a fantastic way to stay fit, socialise and make new friends. Whether you’re joining the local netball team to keep in shape or your kids have footy on the weekends, sun protection should be as integral to getting ready as strapping on your boots.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Apply sunscreen (with a sun protection factor of at least 30+) before the game and every 3–4 hours thereafter.
  • Spectators should remain in the shade, if possible, and wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses.
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.

6. Family Days Out

There’s nothing like a day at the park, a barbeque at home or generally enjoying the great outdoors with those closest to you. A few simple steps will help you avoid a nasty sunburn and ensure the only thing you take away from the day are precious memories.

Tips to prevent sunburn during this activity

  • Use shaded areas like gazebos, verandahs or patios when eating.
  • Have plenty of sunscreens available for everyone.
  • Ensure both adults and children practise good sun safety habits.

Winter is the best time to get a skin check

There’s no such thing as a bad time of year to get a skin check. Skin cancer is always more treatable when caught early, so if you notice anything unusual, it’s important to have it checked out. Even if you haven’t noticed anything unusual, you should have annual skin checks so your doctor can keep track of your skin health and make sure everything is as it should be.

There are plenty of benefits to getting a sun check during the colder months, including:

  • More appointment availabilities.
  • Chance to catch any issues early.
  • Plenty of parking spaces.

Book your next skin check with SunDoctors

A skin check is a quick, easy process that usually provides peace of mind, but could potentially save your life. Our expert team is here to help with all your skincare needs. Though regular self checks are great for noticing any changes, only a professional can diagnose whether it is skin cancer or not.
SunDoctors are here to help with all your skin health needs. If you’re concerned about your skin or if it’s just been a while since your last check, book your next appointment today!

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