By Warren Heggarty
Since the 1970s when sunbaking seemed almost to be compulsory for Australians, health authorities have pushed the message that tanning can lead to dangerous forms of cancer. Tanning clinics have been banned for good reason.
Tanning and sunburn are a reaction to the sun (actually ultra violet rays) damaging your skin. Part of the damage may be triggering off uncontrolled cell growth: skin cancer. The older you get, the more likely you are to develop skin cancers. The majority of skin cancers are non-lethal if treated. Melanoma, however can be fatal – and it does not spare young people.
There was a lot of social pressure on people to get a tan in the seventies. “Sun Worshipping” was supposed to be a good thing. If you didn’t, some people thought you were a bit strange. Even without this kind of social pressure, the sunny climate we have in most parts of Australia leads us to have the highest skin cancer rates in the world.
This statistic remained true even in the 1980s when it briefly seemed to be cool to be as pale as possible. People began shaming you if you were too tanned. You can’t win with fashion…
There is an old article from Cosmopolitan by Angela Ledgerwood which shows the torment of a Sun Worshipper torn between being fashionable and being sensible…or even alive. Is there a happy medium? Medical science says NO…but fashion…? (Ledgerwood, 2014)
Despite the decades of warnings against skin cancer, many teenagers today, especially girls, still believe a tan (ie, skin damage) is a good thing. The Cancer Council’s National Sun Protection Survey (Cancer Council, 2018) found that overall, 38% of teens say they like to get a tan, though girls proved to have a greater desire to tan with 43% saying they prefer to be sun-bronzed. 67% of girls also believe their friends think a tan is a good thing. Overall, 62 per cent of teens (both boys and girls) believe their friends think having a tan is a good thing.
Each year sees 14,000 new cases of Melanoma leaving 1,900 people dead, many of them young.
Using sun screen reduces the chance of developing cancer although most people seem to underestimate how much they need to use. The Cancer Council has its own brand of sunscreen which you can get from a chemist. Follow the instructions carefully and use more than you think you need.
It is not just Summer that can increase your risk of skin cancer. According to Robyn Lucas of the Australian National University, If you spend long hours in the sun, you can get sun damage on most days of the year. Including in winter. (Parnell, 2018)
Being outdoors is healthy in itself and we actually need to get sunlight to function at our best and to manufacture Vitamin D. You can read what the Cancer Council says about ultraviolet rays and Vitamin D here:
So even if you are careful not to get sunburned, you can’t hide from the sun all the time. You still need to check any suspicious looking marks when you go to the doctor. If you want to know what to look for, the Cancer Council has posters and fact sheets which you can find here:
Cancer Council. (2018, November 18). National Skin Cancer Action Week. Retrieved from Cancer Council:
Ledgerwood, A. (2014, July 19). Is getting a tan really that dangerous. Retrieved from Cosmopolitan:
Parnell, S. (2018, November 23). Teenagers tan today pay tomorrow. The Australian .
• Do I get sores or boils?
• Does my skin take a long time to heal?
• Do I have itching or scratching that is hard to stop?
• Have I ever had any skin cancers removed?
• Do I use sunscreen?
• Do I use medications that make it easier for my skin to burn in the sun?
• Am I due for a skin check?
If you are Flourish Australia staff or access Flourish Australia services, you are able to access the Physical Health site here: