Be sun smart

News that cricket commentator Richie Benaud is battling skin cancer is indeed sad, but it should serve as a reminder that as the weather hot up, we should be covering up.

Benaud, aged 84, has announced that he is undergoing radiation therapy to try and eradicate several skin cancers and the good news is that he is responding well to treatment.

Skin cancer is believed to affect two in three Australians by the time they reach 70, so understanding your risk, how to check your skin for sinister changes and using the correct sunscreen are all vital to ensure you don’t become a statistic. Use the following to help you win the battle.

Minimise your risk
We are constantly hearing about Australia’s frighteningly high incidence of skin cancer. More than 430,000 Australians are treated for skin cancer a year and there are more than 1800 deaths from melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancers each year. However, skin cancer is largely preventable. Be SunSmart. Protect yourself and your family against sun damage and skin cancer by using these five steps:

  1. Slip on sun protective clothing
  2. Slop on SPF 30+ sunscreen
  3. Slap on a hat (broad brim or legionnaire style)
  4. Seek shade
  5. Slide on sunglasses

Remember to monitor your skin regularly and if you notice any changes, consult your GP.

Understanding sunscreen

How do sunscreens work?
Sunscreens work by reflecting light in the same way a mirror would. There are many kinds of sunscreens on the market so choosing one can be confusing. It’s a matter of personal preference as to whether you use a lotion, cream, spray or roll-on, but the sun protection factor is what is really important.

What does SPF mean?
SPF stands for Sun Protection Factor. It is a rating given to sunscreens to indicate their level of protection against UVB rays. For instance, if your skin usually begins to burn after 10 minutes spent in the sun, applying a sunscreen with SPF15 will multiply by 15 the time before you start getting sunburnt, in this case extending the protection by up to 2.5 hours. But be aware that re-applying your sunscreen after 2.5 hours will not stop your skin from burning if you remain in the sun; you should then wait until the next day for more sun exposure. Please note that a sunscreen should be applied to clean and dry skin, at least 20 minutes before going out in the sun to be effective. For maximum defence, look for broad-spectrum UVA and UVB protection (available at reputable pharmacies or beauty clinics). And of course, as well as wearing a hat and sunglasses for added protection, it is best to avoid sun exposure between 10am and 4pm when the sun’s rays are strongest.

Checking for skin cancer
While there are many clinics which offer a mole-mapping service to monitor the changes in existing skin blemishes, you can check your own skin with the help of a good magnifying mirror and a friend for those places you can’t see. For a guide on what you should be looking for, visit

And finally, why not watch this video as a reminder of how easy it is for the sun to damage your skin?

Written by Debbie McTaggart